A crow perched on the balcony of a house from dawn or a black cat crossing one’s path at dusk, are normal, rather natural occurrences but often these are perceived as some sort of extraordinary events. For many these embody great significance – rather crucial messages: Arrival of guests if the crow is cawing since morning, or imminent bad luck if the black cat walks in front of someone. Considered rationally, birds or animal survive in a world of their own, in which their movement do not have any effect on human beings and on their destinies, but it is the man who first adds, and then deciphers a range of meaning in every entity that exists in his world/ surroundings.
The presence of meaning is not limited to the signs of bad luck but it includes almost every sphere of life. We try to find hidden content in things and beings, which – intrinsically do not possess any such ‘texts’. For instance formation of clouds, spot on the moon, shapes on marble, cracks in a plastered wall, split coffee beans, scattered tea leaves and lines on both palms of our hands hold important messages and information for a number of people, who try to read future through these.
Actually this obsession reveals the yearning of a man to locate meanings in his self and environment. Language perhaps is the most effective exercise in formulating a system of code, which further train us to trace meanings in other entities such as the elements of nature, human gestures, and objects made by the human beings. After the invention and usage of verbal language – both spoken and inscribed forms/formats – man has found other languages in his surroundings. Thus everything is meaningful, either banal, or profound. Thus sky, sun, stars, rivers, trees and animals – all speak to humans – in a one-way conversation. Likewise, the objects produced by mankind are full of messages, which are deciphered and understood by users or onlookers.
So apart from letters, words and sentences, we are surrounded by innumerable languages, which keep on changing their content, contexts and connotations with each new contact. Hence a red Ferrari conveys a message different from what a white Suzuki communicates. Likewise a fragrant bar of beauty soap holds a meaning opposite to a stinking cake of cow dung. One’s dress, living spaces, personal belongings can be interpreted as chapters of one’s biography and times.
A person starts unearthing meaning in every physical or nontangible entity encountered by humans, which includes the world of art also. The works of visual arts, which are supposed to comprise a vocabulary of line, shape, colour, balance, harmony, contrast etc. – elements, which are generally believed to be universal and beyond national borders or linguistic limitations, still need to be understood – rather translated into words. This process of converting visuals into words is generally perceived as finding meanings in a work of art.
But what are those meanings and how these are apprehended by a larger public, if not by the makers or informed viewers. We have tried to understand this phenomenon in our current issue by including essays which deal with the presence or absence of meaning in a work of art, or the significance of meanings in our lives. The present issue of Art Now Pakistan offers profile and interview of two personalities from Pakistani art, who have been addressing the issue of meaning in their works in a subtle – yet visible manner. Along with photo-essays, reviews and book review, the issue offers a multiplicity of opinions on the presence, absence or exile of meaning in a work of art. Best described by Frank Stella who responding on the meaning of his work stated, “What you see is what you see!”