John Russell, in his book The Meaning of Modern Art: History as Nightmare, Vol. 3, says, “When art is made new, we are made new with it. We have a sense of solidarity with our own time, and of psychic energies shared and redoubled… a new phase in the history of human awareness has been opened up, just as it opened up when people first read Dante, or first heard Bach’s 48 preludes and fugues… for if any one thing is certain in this world it is that art is there to help us live, and for no other reason.”
Art making is a constant breaking and making of new traditions, techniques and themes in a society. With one structure being made anew from the existing ones, humans connect with each other and share this experience in congregation.
The Alhamra National Exhibition of Visual Arts was recently held on Monday, 26th November at Alhamra Art Gallery, The Mall. The show was inaugurated by Minister, Information and Culture Department Fayyaz-ul-Hassan Chohan, Punjab Government. More than 200 artworks by 120 visual artists all over Pakistan were on display. Many prominent artists who have displayed their works nationally and internationally were Saeed Akhter, Mian Ejaz ul Hassan, Shah Nawaz Zaidi, Abdul Jabbar Gul, Ghulam Mustafa, Dr. Ejaz Anwar, Dr. Musarrat Hassan, Afshar Malik, Zulfiqar Ali Zulfi, R M Naeem, Shahid Jalal, Jamil Baloch, Huma Mulji, Waseem Ahmed, Muhammad Atif Khan, Sana Durrani, Mina Haroon, Ayesha Jatoi, Natasha Malik, Akram Dost Baloch, Ali Kazim, Sana Kazi, Heera Khan, Mahreen Hashmi, Amna Manzoor.
Artists of all ages in various stages of their lives have exhibited together at one space. Many works on display had shown expertise via treatment of art making- with painting, prints, sculpture and illustrative art- and with the diverse contents and styles. The exhibition focused on political dialogue-violence and various societal conflicts- gender inequalities, spiritual realms, language and academic critique.
Leo Steinberg in his writing expands the theme of art being anxious and project anxiety surrounding the artists, ‘Other Criteria: Confrontations with Twentieth-Century Art’. “It seems to me a function of modern art to transmit this anxiety to the spectator, so that his encounter with the work is–at least while the work is new– a genuine existential predicament…. we the public, artists included, should be proud of being in this predicament because nothing else would seem to us quite true to life; and art, after all, is supposed to be a mirror of life.”
Abdul Jabbar Gul’s hanging on the wall sculptural piece ‘Winged Thoughts’ encompasses his thoughts of birds as metaphors for human soul. The blue painted wood appears to be both sky and ocean at the same time where brass birds fly over or migrate to other lands. The ambiguity that lies in the origin of the birds and their destination intrigues the viewer.
Sana Kazi’s ‘Transference (Muntaqil) suggests the link with ‘Creation of Adam’ due to the hand gesture, which is indicating like an arrow head pointing in the direction of the movement. Hence the movement of the human body is indicated from one realm to another. Her treatment of the surface with wood ashes on Wasli creates these hazy scenes from life which blur with human transference- as the title suggests.
In his water color on paper, Ali Kazim paints broken terra cotta pieces- which is his material for sculptural pieces as well- the scene displaces one’s thoughts to the ancient Indus Valley civilization’s ruins as archaeological artifacts and making important the ordinary broken pots we find every day on road sides or gardens.
A lot of works revolved around gender inequalities and its politics. Ayesha Jatoi’s ‘Equal Measure’ displays a strongly sensitive textual work. A map of words is spread over a black paper with pencil. The work is gender-based map, where blue represents the man who moves in the space she has constructed and pink for a woman. Words like ‘She will retaliate with equal measure’ become the crux of the work.
In Dr. Samina Iqbal’s ‘A case of sewing machine’, title plays an important role in giving dual meaning to the work. The wordplay of ‘case’- the work itself is a covering of a sewing machine but is also an investigation into the gender inequality- where women are limited to their roles in society of a home maker and nothing more than that.
Javaria Ahmad in her work ‘The Red Dress’ makes the viewer look at two women clothing- one toddler’s and other a grown up woman- a braid, locally known as ‘parranda’ hangs forming a border between the two stages of her life.
Heera Khan’s painted ceramic plate’s deals with the colonial past, where tea saucers and European plates become symbols of elite class’s possessions.
A concoction of visual art with content placed with the content-less, figurative with figure-less, objective with non-objective, it was an endeavor to bring forth questions for the viewers and artists to raise. Does a work of art really need content or subject matter, which sometimes feels to be forcefully pushed into a work? Would it be considered art if it had a historical and gender context or not? What would you call the ‘artworks’ you did not like due to subjective and personal reasons? Were they still art? And lastly does a work need to be titled ‘Untitled’? It was a journey of questions.