‘Epoché’ is a term that signifies that we must try to enter a space of openness to the experience or phenomenon we are trying to understand in its pre-reflective sense. ‘Reduction’ implies that once we have opened ourselves, we try to close in on the meaning of the phenomenon as it appears in our experience or in our consciousness. These fundamentals from Phenomenology become active stimulants upon entering Hamra Abbas’ latest solo exhibition “Color” at Canvas gallery. The aforementioned thought lingers as an unavoidable presence that leads viewers to arrive at phenomenal insights that contribute to their thoughtfulness and their practical tact; all astutely orchestrated under the metaphysical significance of color phenomenology.
A color galore, the viewer is overwhelmed by the vivid palette that seemingly injects effervescence in an otherwise whitewashed space. For Abbas, color is her medium, her subject, her research, and her experience. Abbas’ acuity of vision and perception is evident in the precision with which she approaches her work. She drives the viewer to have an immersive experience of color through color. The audience delves into investigating the semiotics, the abstracticism, the nature behind the color, as well as the shapes they are manipulated to present.
Two vanitas works feature an inlay of various marbles that conglomerate to form a skull, possibly symbolizing the inevitability of death and the transience and vanity of earthly achievements and pleasures. It exhorts the viewer to consider mortality and to repent. Shadowing the elements of nature, the colors source the ocean, ether, sand, skin, clay, and verdure – a reminder of the temporality of the physical while tapping into the nature of concepts such as of being, of existence, and of reality.
Another stone work depicts a chevron pattern made from a variegation of colored marbles. While the visual with its thoughtfully sought colors may resemble a topographical land survey, it also very evidently represents a rug. The weighty top precariously looms and presses down on the lighter bottom, accentuating a sense of deluge that manifests itself as a lived experience. The viewers are in it, live through it – while not, or not yet, reflecting on it, or making sense of it, or theorizing about it.
True to her practice, Abbas introduces issues of devotion and faith, and visits religious and political iconography as she displays a perceivable prayer mat and the Pakistan’s flag in two separate light boxes respectively. With layers of colored plexiglass, the artist creates a distorted motif that bears a symmetrical semblance yet reverberates with a controlled chaos. One cannot disrupt their obvious interpretation to the perilousness suffusing today’s socio-political as well as religious premise: signifying the germane charm and belonging that draws one to persevere despite the surging mayhem, where often that struggle is heroicized and glorified. The multiple visions, shadows, and overlays deceive the mind as the separate identities coherently come together as one. Relationalism is a key narrative in Abbas’ work. The colors, as themselves, defiantly flaunt their sole existence. They are entire, whole as one. Yet they clash and coalesce; working together to produce something equally sound and complete.
Similar treatment to colored plexiglass continues in other boxed visuals as well. Abbas picks a platonic shape and shifts the contours multiple times to create an immaculately centralized composition. Riddled with geometry and semiotics, the shapes and their configured polygons embody a gamut of vocabulary that range – apart from the apparent formalist concerns – from gender and sexuality, to social hierarchy and the metaphysical landscapes. A perceptual disturbance and a photosensitive overload of visual stimuli trigger one to form patterns in time and space. The bold shapes exude a rapid movement that has been embalmed within the frame, as if they’ve undergone a violent jolt. The visual trickery is elevated with the use of apposite hues that overlap to create further commonly recognizable secondary and tertiary colors, which ultimately marry to produce black. A response to Malevich, “The Black Square” is a color field composition of three layers of plexiglass centralized on white to create a single black patch. Only upon close inspection does one decipher the color participants that uniformly align to camouflage and dodge one’s attention.
Abbas extrapolates the rudimentary from the color theory – the CMYK, the RGB, and the color wheels, as well as the subject of color relationalism to produce something truly stirring and trophic.
What exactly, does a first person experience reveal to us about the nature of color? What is a real color, if there is such? As important as these questions are, much of the interest when it comes to color phenomenology is not ontological but epistemological: what can be known, and what are the limitations to what can be known, about color experience, and their relations within and beyond?
“When we see an object as red we see it as having a simple, monadic, local property of the object’s surface. The color is perceived as intrinsic to the object, in much the way that shape and size are perceived as intrinsic. No relation to perceivers enters into how the color appears; the color is perceived as wholly on the object. The “color envelope” that delimits an object stops at the object’s spatial boundaries. So if color were inherently relational, . . . then perception of color would misrepresent its structure.” (McGinn, 1996, 541–542)
Like most things, one contemplates whether colors too exist and function only as relational entities. Much like an X Ray view box, Abbas exposes the construction of this sensory and experiential illusion for viewers to witness in order to have a fuller experience, and to question the “real color.” The question may certainly lead in a number of directions – perhaps its real (object) color is identical with a physical property that does not change across illuminations: surface reflectance, for example. Perhaps the idea of real color should be dismissed entirely and replaced with a conception of color in adjunct to viewing conditions and observers. These positions take up different views as to the relation between the way things seem and the way things are for color, and Hamra Abbas’ exhibition is a spirited, psychological, as well as philosophical venture that covers the many permutations of these convoluted views.