Fatima Munir’s first solo show was held at the historical Rothas Gallery in Islamabad last month. The Karachi-based artist presented some of her latest works including three (edition of three) embroidered fabric blind and a series of framed weapons wrapped-up with different kinds of fabric.
The first impression visitors have, when entering the exhibition space, is of peace and serenity. The works are coherent, graceful, well proportioned and outwardly linear. In looking at the set up of the show one feels protected, in a cocoon-like environment.
In fact, the fabric that envelops the guns mitigates their shapes and makes them appear harmless. In the same way the written curtains show through the light but simultaneously protect the interior by hiding the exterior and blurring the reality. They are filters, physical and spiritual boundaries, between the inner-self and the world.
“It’s a barrier between me and the people I feel violated by”, says the artist that feels overwhelmed by the megalopolis she lives in. “Karachi is one of the most dangerous cities in the world” and she admits that living and raising her family there frustrates and stresses her.
This is not surprising considering that the most populated town of Pakistan, lodges more than 23 million citizens and it’s everyday life is sadly spiced with endless episodes of violence, murders, blasts…
Fatima Munir is also concerned about her community and more generally about Pakistani society. In her statement she points out the intrinsic contradictions of her country. “We are hospitable yet volatile. We claim to be patriotic yet we are self-destructive. We talk endlessly of religion, yet we kill”.
Each piece of the series of toy gun speaks about both those values and weaknesses. The colourful tablecloth that appears in the works entitled “Agay” and “Peechay” stands for the hospitality, while in “Andhar” and “Bahar” the colours of the Pakistani flag, with their religious meaning, symbolize both Patriotism and Faith. Furthermore, the white cloth that wraps the shotgun recalls the shroud used in the Islamic funerals, hence representing also death. While “Aamney” and “Samney” accuse the mass media, which “exploit the situation for economic and political games. Press can make us believe in everything, it has a huge power and doesn’t always use it to tell the truth. Also it shows blood, mutilated bodies and dead people, which may generate further violence”.
Despite the fact that the themes she is handling are somewhat obvious and the means rather predictable, at least in the environment she lives in, Fatima Munir’s work remains powerful, elegant and poetic.
That is true also for the techniques she uses to express those topics, in particular embroidery, taught to the artist by her grandmother during her childhood. “Embroidery brings peace, it is like reading a book, it’s relaxing especially when you leave in a stressful place like Karachi. It’s a way to escape”.
The choice of this traditionally exclusive female practice leads to think about the condition of women in Pakistan. The isolation, the loneliness that sometimes they have to face; but also the patience, the delicate manoeuvring and the rigor they are capable of enduring.