Fabric is a group show from gallery My Art World, held in Islamabad between 18th and 26th April, 2016. Artists Scheherzade Junejo, Annem Zaidi, Saqiba Suleman, Babar Moghal, Hassan Shah Gillani & Ayesha Khan showcased works that signifies fabric to depict different aspects of identity and the feminine form. These diverse artworks converge on the theme, however in technique, narrative and visual appeal they are quite distinct.
Karachi-born Scheherzade Junejo offers up a technically arresting piece entitled ‘The Entropy of Identity’ which sees a naked female reclining with a skull casually clasped against her thigh, and her face and chest obscured by a blue satiny cloth. There are many inferences that could be drawn from this work, but the overarching theme seems to be the tension that exists in modern society around the clothed vs. unclothed female form. Some say clothed is freedom, others say it is oppression and nakedness represents the true free female. While the tussle continues, what is forgotten is that when we look at only the external – the cloth or the skin – the identity of the individual is lost. A woman is more than what is seen on the outside.
Ayesha Khan has chosen to depict a male form in her work Knight in Shiny Armour with the disembodied white shirt, hand on hip, facing away from us. A theme seen throughout the exhibition is the facelessness of the central figures, perhaps to signify the role that fabric plays in building a sense of identity. We are only given the outer layer to understand the identity here, no facial clues as to what makes this ‘hero’ a knight in shining armour.
Annem Zaidi shares some similarities with Junejo, in that the female form is depicted with beautifully crafted drapery. Zaidi’s women are implied, as the intricately draped fabric appears against a totally black background. Zaidi is inspired by the techniques of the Old Masters and draws heavily on this style in her work. The fabric here is more readily recognizable as a hijab and the wearer is again faceless, like in Junejo’s work. However the material is not obscuring the women, rather it is giving them form against the black. We only know they exist because of the fabric.
Saqiba Suleman’s work is a bright addition to the collection, with gaily-clad women depicted against bright patterned backgrounds. The patterns of the background and the clothing are at once similar and contrasting, which makes for an interesting visual display where we can’t quite decide if the picture is in harmony or chaos. The work has a certain pop art appeal, yet is saved from the cartoonishness and frivolity of pop art by the pensive and well-crafted central figures, which give the work a kind of introspective thoughtfulness.
Babar Moghal takes us on an even more whimsical road, with his work depicting women in soft pastel colors that have a Turner-esque quality to their backgrounds. Babar is inspired by music, and his work Adagio seeks to capture the mood a classical, slow paced score can invoke. Introspective and soft, the woman in this image is deep in thought. We are seeing the soft, innocent face of Junejo’s reclining woman here, every harsh angle and light has yielded and the blue cloth is an extension of mood, rather than and obfuscation of identity. While perhaps not as skillfully rendered as Junejo’s, the evocative atmosphere of the work is redemptive.
We seem to see the evolution of Moghal’s women in Hassan Shah Gillani’s diptych. We see the woman in Gillani’s image from an aerial view, painfully detailed, a full skirt encompasses the outline of her figure in the first drawing Fabric, while in the second, titled Fabric? the bare outline of her skirt is seen on her detailed torso. On each the figure’s head is obscured, repeating the theme seen through many of the exhibit’s images, of the faceless female in swathes of fabric.
So what is fabric? The artists in this series have drawn a correlation between fabric and nakedness, the obvious being that we use cloth to cover ourselves. But in that covering we can discover a kind of subterfuge – are we what we cloth ourselves in? Are we what is underneath our clothes? Neither is a complete answer, and our identity, which fabric seems to signify here, is something altogether different.