It is often customary to come across images from an upcoming exhibition online before the opening of the show. Such was the case with Ayaz Jokhio’s work which, when seen from behind the impersonal neon glow of a screen, distorted in scale and material, seemed to be composed of small cut outs from print media. Upon walking into ‘Filling Greys’, held at Taseer Art Gallery, one is mildly surprised at encountering detailed charcoal renderings instead in a larger but consistent scale. Pleasant admittedly, but what has really changed, one is forced to examine? Formal versus instrumental concerns are ongoing in Jokhio’s work as was the case with his ‘dust paintings’ where material sought to escape its trappings and become meaningful by itself albeit as assembled image. This time, however, attention is drawn not to material that impersonates an image, but an image that impersonates another image.
A monochromatic palette; patient, considered rendering that remains unaffected by the urgency of some depicted situations (a flood, a moving car); and the drawing of printed text, all indicate an already captured visual reference. However, most importantly this making of images of images is reinforced noticeably in the framing of the marks into simplistic forms that Jokhio claims are made in imitation of children’s drawings. Thus a scene from a flood is encased in the shape of an umbrella while a raining cloud contains an image of a land where water seems scarce. Since a definitive visual language for childhood remains evasive, Jokhio’s outer forms seem to be assumed rather than studied – an easy trap to fall into since one cannot help being experientially removed and is faced often with simplistic depictions of a socially constructed, generic idea of childhood. Looking at Jokhio’s works, it is impossible to dismiss the hand (and gaze) of an adult visible under the thinly kept guise of a child, which makes these images wistful but at the same time, self-aware.
Titled simply as the name of the object that is chalked out by the outer shape such as Gadi, Chatri and Ainak, Jokhio’s images provide fixed lenses from which to view another related scene. Dualism in these, the sum of this and that, is perhaps meant to arrive closer to a holistic quintessence of object and experience, and how during articulation one of these might hint at the other. Reminiscent of Pavlovian conditioning, this exercise brings two disparate and sometimes even conflicting variables into one comprehensive expression. In fact, rather than the shape of these forms, it is this whimsical act of matching up variables that has a playful childish quality about it.
Centered and at first glance immediately recognizable, the outer shapes of seemingly simple objects are invested with an authority to control the field of view. Thus the specifics of a singular one of these objects govern the mediation of another larger experience. This gives importance to inherent agency rather than structure, as both constraining and enabling.
However, when considering the importance given to the physical specifics of these objects, one wonders if they are also meant to be particular in content. Does one image have to be that of a butterfly engulfing a particular ear marked page from “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez? Are images of suffering from a flood, contained inside an umbrella, imperative for a discourse on the formal and conceptual concerns of image making? And just as importantly, are a number of images using an identical visual device required to register these concerns?
The selection of this content seems to be undiscerning and indifferent. This decision is effective in images that lack obvious social, cultural or political markers e.g. Gadi, while being composed of a recognizable view, is dealing only in surfaces. Elsewhere, it is difficult to shrug off implications that the images already carry. While this makes fertile ground for speculation in pieces like Ainak and Popat which feature drawn versions of sometimes legible printed text, it is far less effective in more documentative images. Synchronic and passive representations in images like Kakar and Chatri, make for an ahistoric stance that refuses to meaningfully examine context and yet features recognizable loaded imagery only in service of a clever visual device. This unintentional supplanting of associated narrative makes them appear superficial forays into other lives without empathy or curiosity but with a foregone conclusion. The question then is perhaps one of power and ownership. When can an artist selectively take as material whatever they wish from other lives and whenever does that unsettling point arrive when this material refuses to behave the way an artist wishes it so? Some writers often allude to books writing themselves, of characters being obstinate, while others speak of plots they planned to the last detail years before they ever set pen to paper. Similarly, the relationship of an artist with his subject is a fraught one that cannot be ranked in hierarchy just so easily.
Madyha Leghari is a visual artist, writer and a graduate in Fine Arts from the National College of Arts. She lives in Lahore.
Images courtesy Taseer Gallery