Step 1: Enter the gallery,
Step 2: Look at the works,
Step 3: Get confused,
Step 4: Give yourself a moment and start again.
The two-person show of Shahnaz Adamjee and S.M. Raza at Full Circle Gallery is not your typical show which you can get through with only a glance. It requires a deeper study, firstly, with each and every piece, then with the separate bodies of work of each artist, and then finally with the entirety of the works displayed.
The task isn’t made easy with the lack of title or a curator’s point of view behind these works, making the interpretation the responsibility of the viewer alone, and that is one huge responsibility to have with works as diverse and contrasting as these.
Starting off with the first painting, a work by Shahnaz Adamjee, one is able to establish almost immediately the maturity of the subject. An introverted expression, her work is about her inner reflections, emotions and a response to her surrounding – a subject that can only be done justice by a person in her position who has reached a certain age and has been gifted with the wisdom that comes with experience alone.
The works are arranged from her oldest body of work, to the newest – and the evolution is clear. In her work the constant theme are the eyes and the face, which carry in them a stillness. It is the background which gives energy, creating a commotion almost, to the works.
The stillness in the eyes is a constant, in the initial pieces – lifeless and blank with no emotions in them – but as you move forward, from piece to piece, this changes. The eyes open for the first time in a work done on ply, which for can read as the connection of the self with nature (in terms of material) that results in such a change. The eyes are finally open, and there is depth; the eyes at last begin to speak to the viewer.
By her last two pieces, they seem to capture a whole array of emotions and spirit of one’s being, the faces are all different, titled this way or that, though one can see that they are the same eyes that have accompanied them from canvas to canvas. They communicate a spectrum of emotions; the human emotional evolution, if not yet complete probably, has reached a certain maturity. Since the works are not a singular body of work, the creations can be broken down to a number of years that articulates the development of the artist herself.
Raza’s work is a different phenomenon all together and is therefore in stark contrast to Shahnaz’s work.
His work carries in it a direct link to those of the Masters; it reverberates with a fascination and desperation to have a connection with them or other outside forces, and therefore is completely extrovert in its nature.
His first work in the lineup, Family Portrait, is a play on both the word and idea itself, a theme that echoes throughout his work. Each member has painted their own self portrait, with all the rawness and the lack of techniques that one can predict from amateurs captured in such an experiment. His self portrait however, stands in contrast, in one corner, juxtaposed with the rest of the family, in all its refinement. It screams of differences on so many levels!
The Potato Eaters, referring to Van Gogh’s work, is a playful interpretation of four, French-fry gobbling friends. Raza puts a relatable twist to this work, truly owning it in the process, but the same can’t be said for Starry Night. The playfulness and the experimentation, so synonymous with his work, seem to desert him in this one piece. As one of the most recognizable images in the world, one can’t help but miss the intensity and the insanity of the original.
While his obsession with Van Gogh is crystal clear, the infatuation with others is still not amiss. In his work If I was friends with Masters his imagination takes a whole new level as he ponders what such a friendship would look like. Raza in this piece dwells on such a friendship with the likes of Dali, Picasso, William de Kooning, Piet Mondrian, Michelangelo and the obvious Van Gogh.
In its entirety the show is about dualities. The mature body of Shahnaz’s work is the complete opposite of Raza’s; the playful nature of Raza’s work intersects with the intensity of Shahnaz’s. Then what makes these two very different individuals come together for one show? According to Raza, working and discussing things with her is what led to this idea. As a viewer, I read this in itself being reflective of him seeking a more mature voice of a senior artist to learn and be inspired from.
Raza is a promise, his work always seems to capture something new, a new idea, a new subject to reflect on – it is his ingenuity that is his trademark, while one can find solace and comfort in the more established voice in the work of Shahnaz. Together they have struck the perfect balance.
Shahnaz Adamjee and S.M. Raza at Full Circle Gallery, Karachi ran at Full Circle Gallery, Karachi, from 21 August to 11 September. Images courtesy Full Circle Gallery.
Varda Nisar is a researcher, curator, and director of the Karachi Children’s Art Fest.