Ayesha Zulfiqar: ‘Traces of the Familiar’


Ayesha Zulfiqar: ‘Traces of the Familiar’

What begins as a playful activity and starts behaving like serious work reflects a journey in time- but in no time at all. It was not in the distant p

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What begins as a playful activity and starts behaving like serious work reflects a journey in time- but in no time at all. It was not in the distant past that Ayesha Zulfiqar was a student trying to discover the best of way expressing her and now she has turned into an artist shifting and molding her viewers’ point of view. Her choice of material and its handling knows no boundaries, solely because Zulfiqar has a different approach towards art/life itself.

Instead of relying on fantasy or imagination she takes her images from the reality around her. She is interested in the logistics of the actual material she applies and its making. What she brings out from her precise calculations is simple yet complex: forms that represent the ordinary.

Her current work ‘Traces of the Familiar’ shown at the Ghandara Art Space Karachi, curated by Hajra Haider Karrar, has roots in her dislocation, in/of being away from the familiar to strange surroundings. The opportunity of exploring herself and the world around, from an angle is not about coming to conclusion about what is real and what stems from memory/imagination. The realization of not belonging, or belonging to a certain region lifts the burden of existence, and at the same time makes you heavy with being rooted and grounded. Zulfiqar’s work started out as a therapy to the agony of returning home every time you attempt to escape.

Of five works at Ghandhara Art Space we can focus on ‘The Following Story’, drawings placed in a form of scrolls as a starting point or the point of reference. These drawings, small in size, inhabit a room. They are drawn from multiple angles and with a keen stress on memory, so we see outlines of a room that a person habituated, with usual furniture that a person may possess- a bed, a closet, a table and table lamp. Every possible vision from memory is drawn but the viewer never enters the space or looks at anything up close. Those drawings neatly folded and carried in a box travelled back to its abode or referential point.
Moving on from there, these drawings are revisited in ‘Untitled’ and what is extracted is just merely an essence. Empty spaces that occupy nothing and have weightlessness. Cutouts of empty spaces assume an entity of their own in the form of blue screen prints laid out for a viewer to see and rejoice. The emptiness or the empty spaces is the outcome of the emotional height the artist went in/through trying to connect herself to where she belongs to, and where she is placed. It is like a celebration of sadness- the emotional turmoil of celebrating inevitable loss.

It continues  further in razor like forms titled ‘Celebrations’. Witnessing the creation of tiny blue forms made out of epoxy resin, initially it seemed impossible but like the Japanese Puffer fish (and its method towards mating), simple thin razor like shapes can give an effect of spilt water in the shape of an empty part of the room. After the achievement of the desired form through struggle I ask the artist what do you have to say about it she replies “pani darta hay” (water is reluctant); reminding me of another artist who stated that “light acts different when you look at it.” This calls for keen observation and being one with the material that communicates with you.

Home is important to her, she feeds on to what is immediately around her. She brings it out for others and here these objects become souvenirs testament of that journey of dislocation and longing. On closer study these cutouts could embody a weapon, bird, sewing machine, abandoned machinery part etc.,

Intimate recollection of space and confronting the actual space, is suggested through her work ‘Room Relived’. Its dimensions are on human scale, heavy and solid. It is like a temple, preciously and sleekly installed/fabricated from earth. This work is again a cutout or plan of a room. But this time it is not something that embodies the unfathomable or unapproachable, it is a real confrontation. It’s a challenge for the viewer to see, appreciate but not to enter. The plan of a room is made with mud. First fluffed and then pressed to its exactness. The foundation is shifted in a way that it comes out and lays itself open, naked with material made beautifully with jelly and flowers that present colour and smell. The jelly and flower feel like homage paid to the very foundation of that room. The room that lives on within us with all its ambience, beauty, solidity and materiality. This could be her position on the temporality of a human being in this material/natural world.

Through the struggle of escaping, artist negates the idea of escape. This work is not an escape nor a replication, it has weight, to the point that its weight will stay forever. Mud has its own body and substance.

The work is not permanent, if removed or destroyed it will stay, in memory, imagination and in recollections. Like ‘Authority of the Living’, a chair inserted in sand. Chair creates a bond with body. It represents human form; it can be anyone and it is never empty. There will always be someone to occupy it. The hourglass (of sand) and chair when together are about person in/and time. Person as an embodiment of time and vice versa.

Witnessing and reading through Ayesha Zulfiqar’s work, I realize that she can capture the banal in the web of time. Time that is captured through plan of room, cutout of shapes and the wake of someone who has just lifted his/her body from the chair but leaving its unforgettable impression in our minds.


Nausheen Saeed is a visual artist based in Lahore, she teaches sculpture at the National College of Arts, Lahore


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