Although I refer to “drawing” here in its artistic sense, as in the act or product of the act of making marks on a surface – the word “draw” also means to draw a cart, means to drag, pull, or bear. Therefore, in its most general sense, then, to draw means to act upon something and make it move. Movement – of both agent and object – is thus essential to the idea of drawing. Ironically, one finds that the word “drawing,” with which we often associate the freedom of self-expression in the artistic sense, is also fundamentally related to the idea of bearing a burden. Sarah Mumtaz’s solo show ‘Love is the New Black’ at Taseer Gallery explicates drawing in both implications.
As a medium, drawing lends itself to the theoretical and experimental. Freed from the obligation to resolve into a finished and independent object – an obligation traditionally associated with other forms – drawing is at once open and intimate, a field for imaginative elaboration in which new concepts and ideas can emerge and evolve with relative ease. Mumtaz’s choice of medium therefore inculcates an informal air in her practice, which allows it to translate itself into a conversation – a light-hearted conversation between the viewer and the protagonist. Drawing as a medium conceptually adds an open endedness to this conversation. There are no points to prove, no statements to put across, no intellect to delineate.
The body of work presents itself like excerpts from Mumtaz’s diary. They are introspective in nature, self-critical at times and self-analytical at others. Mumtaz investigates the ever-changing facets of her existence, both physical and metaphysical. Her disability, which is an intrinsic part of her existence, quite naturally seeps into her work.
The beautiful and the ugly coexist in Mumtaz’s pieces. Such as in What if God was One of Us, in which a little chick flutters around the skull of another bird. The beginning of life in the form of the newborn chick, its suppleness and puerility face to face with the harshness of the remains of what once existed. There is morbidity in the way in which life and death coincide and give way to each other. Similarly, in Busy Bee Has No Time for Sorrow, the bees surround their subject in a rather aggressive manner. Though in heraldry the bee symbolizes diligence and infatigable effort, the bees in Mumtaz’s work render a grotesque yet humorous air. They swarm to the point where their fidelity and devotions smothers the subject. Moreover, associations and references to her performances can be found in her work.
Love and its many intricacies serve as a major source of inspiration for the artist. Many connotations of love such as the relationship between birds and flowers and the frog in her work Kiss Me and You Will Know How Important I Am reminds one of the story of The Princess and the Frog.
Though Mumtaz’s works come across as simplistic and non-pretentious, her concerns are existential as she draws from within. The very act of drawing is an act of prolonged, intense, deliberate beholding and is perhaps the medium through which Mumtaz develops her perception by slowing down the act of seeing or experiencing things such as love, lonliness and change and all their many manifestations.
Madiha Sikander is a visual artist and writer based in Karachi.