We all recognize the phony faces that look back at us from Hera Khan’s pieces. We see these individuals around us; those that we label as “kitty aunties” for the lack of a better word. Instead of documenting the afflicted or grief stricken individuals, Hera Khan puts the affluent under a microscope, studying their moves, expression and body language. She dissects the daily lives of these individuals, picking out scenes which best describe their character.
She makes a mockery out of the cliques that fight their way up the social ladder by adopting a particular lifestyle. This lifestyle, consisting of a peculiar set of rules, is self imposed. Khan criticizes this elitist lifestyle and the absurd affectations that come with it.
The artist captures her characters as they perform specific tasks or assume certain traits that are typical of them; women getting dressed up, getting more clothes tailored, trying to look more youthful then their years allow, etc.
The images have a sublime quality to them, as dislike for such groups’ acts as the foundation upon which the work is constructed. The artist shows a strong antipathy for what she feels is the lack of a greater purpose in their lives. However, she cloaks this hatred with a pleasant floral pattern. The pattern successfully conceals the blatant aversion of the artist adding subtlety to the work, resulting in the slow unraveling of the ominous subject at hand.
The floral or “flowery” pattern seems to be alluding to their elaborate lifestyle; the material assets that they use to adorn their otherwise austere existence. The ladies are consumed by a fabricated reality that makes them blithely ignorant. Thus, Khan empathizes or rather pities their lack of perspective. Furthermore, the floral pattern could also be seen as depicting the transient nature of riches, beauty and comforts.
On the surface everything seems merry but on closer inspection the cheerful expressions of the women seem rather absurd. The faces lack sincerity. Each frame looks as if the women are aware of being watched. Even in their solitary state they put up a show.
The painting “Three of a Kind” acts as an abridgement to the series. The image reveals the unoriginality and pretentiousness assumed by the women in their supposedly “modern” and “liberal” lifestyle. The artist very directly poses this point by making similar attire, handbags and expression on their faces where they cannot be easily distinguished from the other. Other works such as “Poise” expose the aristocratic airs adopted by such individuals.
The artist uses only minimal amount of objects to put forth her ideas. She adds element s such as pieces of taxidermy, overweight women in high heels and authoritative dispositions – things we all associate to the bourgeois. Thus the visuals are successful in engaging its audience.
Khan integrates old and contemporary techniques to represent her ideas to the viewer. The images are built up of the ancient technique of miniature painting along with new print media flawlessly blend together.
The inherent irony in the titles, play a great role in convincing the spectator to side with the artist. Hera’s work has a certain authenticity as it is a study of the world around her, extracting characters from her very own surroundings. The artist highlights Lahore not conventionally as “ the centre of culture” but as the city that is evolving or modernizing way too fast for its own good.
Heera Khan’s solo exhibition, ‘Glazed’, ran at My Art World, Islambad, 7-15 December, 2015.
Shameen Arshad is a graduate of the prestigious National College of Arts, Lahore. She is an artist, curator as well as a freelance writer for ArtNow and The Missing Slate.