On the 8th of October, the Dominion Gallery opened a peculiar show called As We Are at The Colony in Lahore, which promised the audience a dissection
On the 8th of October, the Dominion Gallery opened a peculiar show called As We Are at The Colony in Lahore, which promised the audience a dissection of identity, sexuality, and gender expression. Curated by Usman Ahmed, the exhibit aimed to explore and question norms in terms of a preconceived societal understanding of what it means to be a human, and frankly, the only two options that are traditionally accepted: a man and woman.
Breaking through these so-called norms, the show featured eleven artists with dynamics so exclusive and brilliant, they provided substitutes for tradition with their own experiences, narratives and emotive paraphernalia. Their talent, perception and dexterity did more than just prove that there are multiple ways of being a human, regardless of an experience shared or not. Individuality does not mean invalidity. A painting measuring up to eight feet in length captivates you. It is of a mother and a child, the former’s body laid across the canvas while the latter is right in the center. Draped in floral fabrics, the woman seems gentle and tired, while supporting her head with her right hand. Behind her, a string of red flowers is visible and connotations suggest either festivities or violence? Perhaps both? A depiction of a mother and her child is not new and in Renaissance paintings, you often see Mary breastfeeding the baby Jesus ever so lovingly, yet in this work by Bibi Hajra, the baby seems quite self sufficient. Dressed in contrasting fabrics, all eyes go directly to the baby which only leaves the audience with either uneasiness or admiration. While recalling western imagery, Safwan Subzwari’s wonderful cubist piece is a visualisation of a philosophical dream where the artist remembers being at a wedding party and being served food that, ‘resembled the deepest and truest version of himself’. Staying true to the absurdism of cubism, Subzwari’s truest version of himself was a purple chicken leg. Further on, you come across two works drenched in blue and highlighted in gold leaf.
‘Midnight Blue Citrus’ are works by Mahr Lak and they echo of an era long gone and forgotten. Hazy, dizzy, and confused they resonate with the act of remembering, being remembered, and the depression of being ignorantly forsaken. ‘Bambi’ reflects the innocence and naivety of artist Mustafa Yazdani, whose oeuvre often comments on the fine line between purity and sin. Head resting on a knee, his doe eyes draw you in and with such a powerful contact, you wonder if the viewer and the viewed have switched roles. If truth could be merged with bodily expression, the result would be the work of an artist called Fatima Faisal. In a relatively sombre colour palette, Faisal works to shatter the simple meanings behind the concept of a human body and unveil it as the complex and beautiful creation it is. The people in her work are not just mere characters but ones we as the audience recognise: the woman with her back turned to us has flesh just as plushy as the sofa she’s on; the couple in another painting compliment each other with their own respective capabilities of being as open or closed off as they so desire; the acrobat questions, “But which way is truly up?” Existentialism is a theme also shared by artist Kaiser Irfan. His mixed media work is a careful explosion of colour, texture and emotion.
Tilted after the city of Lahore, the work does a fascinating job of bringing the streets of Lahore into the gallery space. The noise, the seclusion, the discombobulation, the tidiness and untidiness are all packed into one neat little painting. Much like Pandora’s box. Nyla Talpur’s miniature painting is a scene of middle class mundanity, easy and relatable. It is also a comment of individuality through anonymity: you are the truest version of you in the comfort of your home, with your pet(s) as the only onlooker. An Einstein bust and a Buddha statue expel merrymaking and serenity, both felt in their epitome when in the security of a utopian home. Following in the footsteps of the surrealists of the 20th century, Osama Doger creates pieces commemorating the transient spaces of time in which the body connects with itself spiritually. He reiterates the phrase, ‘out of body experience’ as he uses watercolours to create fluidity in his works, not only in terms of gender and identity but also the fluidity relating to physicality, the subconsciousness, and the question of a soul. Seeing a woman in a power pose, fully accessorised with a watch, a fur, a pair of glasses, and lo and behold, an eagle. Quratulain Dar has successfully produced a painting that challenges gender stereotypes with an alternative narrative that proves to be more powerful than traditional heteronormative portraits of important men.
A great substitute for the drawing room decor of the orthodox, if I may be so bold. As an enigmatic visualisation of herself, Shazma Arshad’s self portrait is bursting with a monochromatic palette of reds and pinks. Pop culture symbols make themselves known and one realises that this work is an expression of an romanticised identity if the artist could make herself appear as she desired. Simon Foxall provides his audience with a watercolour quartet that conjoins imagery from different eras of history as well as the presence. This is a comment on identity that is ever evolving and yet, also remains the same. Medieval creatures carry the same weight of emotions as movie stars from the 80s. There is intrigue, horror, love, camaraderie, and connection that can withstand the test of time. Some experiences are almost always felt by every person on earth, and some pass them by. Collectivism does not mean invalidity.