“Portraiture is unlike any other genre. With most kinds of art, the artist communicates through a medium with the audience. It’s simple, elegant, relatively un-muddied, and entirely different from a portrait’s way of communicating.”
– “Why Portrait is Different” by Gwenn Seemel
Every portrait made by an artist has a purpose and narrative which they share through their art. Memories do get locked in a portrait and have an invisible and strong bond shared by the viewer and the art.
Noormah Jamal and Hoor Imad Sherpao also enjoyed making striking possibilities of the human form in the show “Empirical Empire” showcased at Full Circle Gallery. The gallery space was embellished with captivating portraits displayed by the graduates of the National College of Arts (NCA).
Moving from one portrait to another was a feast for the eyes. Noormah Jamal displayed works seeped in symbolism. Jamal’s way of depicting individuality through her portraits and questioning individuality awakened within the viewer a realization of individual existence unique to each. On inquiring she explicated:
“I believe that every person has individuality. Their lives, stories and struggles separate them from one another. There is something that separates each one of us, which not all of us share. In my work I try to highlight the differences which separate an individual from the other. I do not let sex, religion, race, color and other factors, that divide the world, affect my work and the message I try to convey”. Her work is about the personal baggage that people carry.
Two of her portraits stood out from the rest of her works. Titled “War” and “Peace” these paintings were made with gold leaf and gouache on boxboard in which “War” was depicted war with red flowers and “Peace” with pink flowers.
The characters Jamal painted with the gouache technique using acrylic on wasli looked like possessed and demonic characters but on a closer inspection one could clearly understand that they are inimitable depictions. These characters possessed a power that gave them a confidence with no surge or yearning for beauty.
Another set of paintings equally and powerfully stood out. These were by Hoor Imad Sherpao who spoke about women’s beauty through her art. She painted the characters which are known to her. Using gouache on wasli, Sherpao showed a variety of portraits in the show. Her portraits were adorned with tiaras and flowers on their heads and in the background to intensify feminine beauty.
Flowers and decorative elements could be seen repetitively in her work. In one of her portraits, Sherpao kept the background black through which arose dominating and decorative elements ornamenting the face of the woman with jewels and surrounding the image with flowers that made the women look vicious yet alluring.
“Physical beauty is an important feature and source of negotiation both within my painted frame and outside it. However, my work not only visually relies on the idea of attractiveness but also features eerie, sublime elements of discomfort such as piercing expressions of the female, missing eyes and doppelgangers.” Sherpao stated.
Before making the final image manually on wasli, the artist’s process involves the gathering of references from film and photography which she edits several times before the final image evolves. Known to achieve aesthetic satisfaction she likes to ‘borrow and steal decorative elements’ from Miniature and Pre Raphaelite paintings. She loves to experiment with color exaggerating tones to highlight the flesh and feminine form creatively indulging in a play of innocent and demonic portraits.
Sherpao did complete justice to embracing feminine beauty. She not only believes but also convinces the viewer interacting with her work that a woman is the only magnificent creature.
Portraiture is a challenging and difficult theme used to highlight a subject’s rare qualities, enhancing the ugly side as beautiful and making it believable. Both the artists successfully made their work stand out reaching the height of creativity and imagination- both in terms of concept and style.