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Book Review: Fifty Encounters

When an exhibition takes place, normally it ends up in multiple ways. Works purchased by collectors, reviews printed in magazines and newspapers, video coverage transmitted on various TV channels, and art works surviving in the memory of viewers who visited the show. Often the gallery also publishes a catalogue, so the show continues to exit even after it is taken down from the walls.

Now we have the catalogue of catalogues: “The First 50”, published by the Sanat Initiative, Karachi. Here one can revisit and recall the exhibitions that have been held in the past 29 months at the Sanat Gallery. This impressive volume contains essays from the catalogues of all those exhibitions along with an introductory essay by Quddus Mirza and an interview of Abid Merchant, the director of Sanat Initiative/Gallery.

The collected essays are accompanied with the pictures of artworks, so one is able to see what the writers have discussed. The list of writers – as well as the names of artists –makes this publication one of the most valuable document of contemporary art of Pakistan. One comes across contributors such as Dr. N. B. Goswamy, Salima Hashmi, Mohsin Hamid, Marjorie Husain, Quddus Mirza, Durriya Kazi, Amra Ali, Aasim Akhter, Zarmeene Shah, Shahana Ranjani, Dua Abbas and several others writing on artists of different generations pursuing their distinct art practices.

In fact, the diversity of artists also adds value to “The First 50”, because leafing through its pages you encounter artists making conventional oil on canvas, or introducing new innovations in the genre of miniature painting, sculpture, installation, mixed media, or offering new interpretations of drawing, and even a show of traditional calligraphy. Thus, the Sanat Gallery presented a wide and comprehensive view of contemporary practices in art.

One of the most exciting exhibitions included in this catalogue is ‘Art Cash Hard Cash’ by Muhammad Zeeshan (a section of a photograph of his display is printed as the cover of this catalogue). The exhibition was important because it dealt with the relationship – often uncomfortable, uneasy and untrusting – between the makers of art and the art galleries. If the artist proclaims to produce works for the greater service of art, the gallery claims to promote and project art for the sake of serving a noble cause in society. Yet, at the same instance both are eyeing for making money through their efforts and time – rightly! Through his work Zeeshan expressed this link between concept and cash, or art and money, which, in the words of Quddus Mirza, “Now when art, at least to some extent, has become more about investing rather than investigating, many artists are commenting on this state of affairs. Even though they are a part of this process, their works are a form of critique on the custom of bracketing art with money….. Art Cash Hard Cash was not an experiment but an experience in unearthing the delicate link between art and money. By diluting the difference in these two entities, the exhibition posed a question on the commercialization of ideas and commodification of expression.”

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