Growing up in a culture such as Pakistan where oral traditions, folklore, storytelling have been and still are prevalent, it is not difficult to understand the extent of importance human beings assign to these anecdotal narrations. Most often, to the point where they shape who we are and impact our beliefs and teachings. Interestingly ‘Ever Let the Fancy Roam’ is an exhibit that highlights similar importance given to fairy tales and folklore around the world. The show classifies fairy tales into various genres based on the similarities that exist within the different narratives. Thereby drawing connections in between different regions and cultures and celebrating the similarities that exist not only in the narrative but also in the visual.
Ever Let the Fancy Roam, curated by Dua Abbas Rizvi opened at Chawkandi Art on the 7th of August 2018. The show features works by Mohsin Shafi, Maria Khan, Sara Khan, Suleman Khilji and Haya Zaidi. Each artist was assigned a unique genre from different part of the world. The artists have made work deriving from their respective interpretations and understandings of the genres and stories that were assigned to them.
Mohsin Shafi’s captivating visuals urge the viewer to walk closer to the work to make out the subject of the paintings. The small scale cluttered collages framed in white ornate boxes appear to be a chaotic negotiation between foreground and background which might be representative of the picaresque theme of this fairy tale; where the reader finds himself contemplating whether or not to like a hero that is not necessarily righteous. The earthy colour palette, almost fleshy consists of warm tones, perhaps representative of the evil within man and in the society around us. Shafi’s work is based on an Indian folktale titled The King of Cheats.
Contrastingly Suleman Khilji and Maria Khan’s work celebrates a heroic and admirable protagonist that is able to achieve the impossible through dedication and hard work.
These sort of moralistic heroes are often glorified in folklore from around the world. Khilji’s work based on the Japanese story The Man who brought a Dream. The subjects in his reasonably large scaled works appear to be calm, confident and sure within themselves. The artist’s depiction of these figures surrounded by Urdu text and placed in what appear to be very familiar Pakistani settings strip them of the nativity of the story and hence makes it more relatable for the viewer.
Khan’s unique almost rugged sort of line quality and high contrast colours create eye catching visuals. The raw and craggy depiction of the female figure captures the very essence of old age. She uses elements in red such as a pendant and roses that create an interesting contrast to the otherwise achromatic canvas.
Haya Zaidi’s surrealistic paintings address the depiction of the female figure in fairy tales and folklore. Zaidi’s feminist approach provides for an interesting contrast to some of the other artists’ interpretations of their respective fairy tales. Her jarring work, based on the Russian story The Mistress of the Copper Mountain, has a bizarre dream-like quality. The use of colour, symbolism and mix media come together to create stunning visuals that have an impact on the viewer. The almost eerie feeling in the paintings makes one think about the contrasting way in which we are perhaps used to seeing the female body in art and literature.
Another artist part of the show, whose work contains a dreamlike and fantastical quality, is Sara Khan. Her layered soft coloured paintings like Zaidi’s are a nod to the theme of the show itself, to the mystical and wondrous quality of fairy tales. Her work based on Egyptian folklore is centred on a suppressed female protagonist in a patriarchal society. Perhaps the layered, looking-through-a-film feel of her work is a nod to the character’s inner thoughts and complexities that have been forcefully hidden behind a veil and constrained within the four walls of her house.
What is interesting and unique about the show besides the fact that it classifies as well as connects the various genres of fairy tales, is the fact that it presents each artist’s individual depiction of the genres. Furthermore each work opens the floor for the audience to draw their own connotations, meanings and interpretations.