drawingthroughtime_MurtazaJarfi

Drawing Through Time

We have locals and tourists standing ‘telescope-eyed’ in front of the maps on subway stations… joining dots, detecting destinations and forming lines of travel in their minds. We have car navigations that sometimes limit their low-computer-minds to the safest, longest possible line of journey – we have archaeologists and anthropologists standing on the roots-of-the-roots of some ‘struggle-for-roots’… through civilizations of architecture and all history; holding a parchment of a plan, a reference image and reality… that was once just drawn.

The show ‘Tradition & Innovation’ curated by Aamna Hussain at Zahoor-ul-Akhlaq Gallery was an attempt at courage and genuine inquiry into a practice that is the core of all manifestations and tangibilities but is rather ignored and forgotten as the ‘unsung’ hero. Probably, because it’s considered ‘a progress’, ‘a process’; it is a paradox, how through eons of image-making the human eye and mind inclines to an aesthetic of polished, finished surfaces. The drawing thus being archived or forcefully hidden backstage – in sketchbook pages, in rolled sheets – and sometimes or many a times…in dust bins!

The title ‘Tradition & Innovation’ is intelligent; I interpret it addressing the academic-tedious pursuit of perfecting the drawing skill as the parameter and foundation of all artistic endeavors –  placing innovation parallel to it directs the mind to the magnificent scope of this pursuit… expanding it beyond just ‘practice’ and ‘progress’…

Aamna Hussain carefully selected a list of veterans along with Maria Khan, who belongs to a different generation. But an exciting return of this combination of artists was a revelation: that contemporaneity is a notion free of ‘gender and times’; the oldest can be the latest – most raw, effortless and avant-garde. I observed in this show through this mix of works that experience and expertise can come with many gifts and pressures. It can be a handicap to exhibit control and skill and/or on the contrary it can be as free and effortless as Henri Matisse explains: “I have always tried to hide my efforts and wished my works to have the light joyousness of springtime, which never lets anyone suspect the labors it has cost me.”

Dr. Murtaza Jafri, Principal of the National College of Arts is a Ph.D. (Fine Arts) from University of East London, London, with a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow AVA London and Advanced Drawing, Concordia University, Montreal. As an NCA alumnus, I’ve personally heard his passionate reminiscing on the power of drawing, his experience abroad of drawing live nude models as per choice… during the academic session in his studio. I’d never seen his drawings before – the simple mastery of the line being the point of all form… in all his figure drawings and portraits on paper, were true to all poise and conviction… as if they were already somewhere on the paper and Dr.Jafri just found us the hidden models on the white sheets. The line was strong and singular. Imagination did all rendering – no tones, shades and extra lines were required.

Then we had Kalim Khan’s work in conversation with Dr. Jafri’s drawings; where smaller and bigger drawings, trees, portraits, landscapes, mixed sketches on small pages and pocket sized sketchbooks were all positioned on one wall in a random yet engaging order. I would like to steal the HTC slogan ‘quietly brilliant’ for this body of drawings. They reminded me of some poet who knows his correct and best verse but is intentionally drawing all the other verses to entertain himself (and others naturally). These free hand, sketchy, flowy, pen-drawings were like a walk in the woods and a land of no-mistakes. Where like Dr. Jafri’s work somehow, it felt that the pages knew the works before they were made.

As per a conversation with the curator, an idea of a show comes with comprehensive learning during the collection of works or there availability. Colin David’s very few, sketchy, expressive, illustrative drawings were just a mere glimpse into his endearing universe of drawing. And the eyes wished for so much more…

Jamil Baloch and Akram Dost presented a different perspective of drawing. It seemed a bit forced adjusting their ‘finished works’ in the capacity of this drawing show but then it also came as an openness: as drawing inherently is so open and organic in its being that holding it in ‘one-box’ or idea would again be unfair. Both of Jamil Baloch’s works – portraits with men in turbans and child and other triptych (with exquisite bodily detail) –were laborious, refined works where drawing leaped to genres of painting and sculpture. The portraits with turbans almost appeared etched in stone. Akram Dost with the grey scale graphite embodiment of masks and floral-geometric patterns was intriguing in its triptych, series-like quality and verticality. The medium, color and design stood here at the forefront of drawing. And personally speaking, the sheer unique grayness of the works saved them from being ordinary.

Rahat Navid and Maria Khan both had separate more personalized worlds. Navid’s portraits in pastels were sensuously colored to life in totality but they bewildered, yet it was a thorough joy to explore their story of making and expression. Flipping through Navid’s sketchbooks, a landscape ‘true to life’ of the same colored intensity again struck: it was so unfinished in all its finishing and probably that was its primal beauty. Scribbled texts of inspiring words, poetry, notes and pencil and pen works are all through the pages… with their own ‘warm’ vocabulary. Navid’s work reflects certain warmth so inviting that the viewer can consider ‘being at home’ longer than suspected…

Maria Khan’s sketchbook figure drawings, thoroughly parallel to her painting/larger-drawing practice… were stuck on drawing boards randomly (by the curator) and they reflected the artist’s engagement, skill and conceptual clarity. Khan has a distinct, linear, geometric yet soft way of playing with her lines. They are almost musical in their capacity to surprise. And the way these smaller and bigger lines compose a person in full character, age, gender, thought and situation… is remarkable…

An excerpt of Aamna Hussain’s curatorial note mentions; “The exhibition includes works on paper along with pages from the sketchbooks of artists, because usually an audience is deprived from the chance to view how an artist thinks, changes and grows into his or her pictorial concerns. On the whole the exhibition seeks to realize and reaffirm that drawing is a genre that can be pursued, enjoyed and engaged with being an independent pictorial pursuit. It also presents some of the works by artists of diverse training and generations.”

The show came as a much needed speculation and surveillance of drawing. And displaying it at Zahoor-ul-Akhlaq Gallery amidst the academic environment which has been host to drawing practice and its tutoring for more than a century –  where the very walls of the gallery are the admission test center of the famous ‘drawing test’ that has raised several academies for its preparation by renowned artists/teachers (drawing experts)… namely Saeed Akhtar, R.M. Naeem and Asif Sharif in Lahore – Aamna Hussain has initiated an important conversation – I see it almost like the food chain… where in ‘art’ the circle begins and ends… with drawing…

Tradition & Innovation: A Drawing Show was held at Zahoor-ul-Akhlaq Gallery, Lahore, from 2-9 March 2015.

Sehr Jalil Raja is a visual artist and writer based in Lahore (BFA, NCA 2006). She is currently pursuing an MA (Hons) in Visual Arts at NCA and teaching O-Level Art at the City School.

 

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