‘Grains of Sand’ is a voguish exhibition that recently opened at the Satrang Gallery in Islamabad. Showcasing the work of six essential artists, Mohammad Ali Talpur, Noor Ali Chagani, Quratulain Shams, Sana Arjumand, Amna Ilyas and Ali Asad Naqvi, the display is a stimulating incorporation of imagery and mediums. The paintings portray the inspiration and creativeness these artists have absorbed from Sufism, a path of spiritual advancement, which through practice allows light to enter the practitioner’s hearts that could lead to the development of innate and spiritual abilities. What is alluring about this particular show is the variety of artistic abilities, thought and mediums. The artists have reached within themselves to express their joys and fears, often choosing elements and styles that compliment their emotions. These pieces create a profoundly refined show where the cradle is one, their individual inventiveness from Sufi beliefs.
As one walks into the gallery’s open space, Sana Arjumand’s Celebrating Moon from her Moon series catches the eye. A large circular shape full of colour and indication of geometric patterns painted with acrylic, oil and ink, it generates a colourful perplexity. Her fascination with the moon is apparent in her other paintings as well. In mysticism the moon symbolizes the heart, for Arjumand the moon is a lover. She has painted the moon as the heart sees it; it oozes of colour and should be understood beyond the surface level of what it is. Its purpose is to reflect and her perception of this celestial body is rendered seductively through paint.
In order to cultivate a contemporary visual language celebrated artist Mohammad Ali Talpur uses ink on paper to form his rhythmic calligraphic imagery. His Alif series portray a textural characteristic of Sufi philosophy whereby he interfolds and intermingles components of calligraphy to compose perhaps an au courant language. Talpur engages the viewer with these awe-inspiring paintings where the subtle nature of the surfaces contributes to their sophistication.
Trained at the Miniature department at the National College of Arts in Lahore, Noor Ali Chagani’s work revolves around the absence of home. He uses miniature-sized terracotta bricks in The Other Side and concrete along with watercolour in Lak Doojey de Naal. These captivating constructions are implicative of solid foundations, one that preserves Chagani’s sense of personal identity. The artist being from a broken home finds solace in his miniature-building units. The brick itself is a unit of strength and support; for Chagani it symbolizes a place he can call his own. This sculptural translation of the conventional miniature style is an interesting move to the coarsely textured three-dimensional forms.
Quratulain Shams also trained as a miniature painter showcases two quiet yet emotionally forceful paintings Oouchh and Security. Her pallid paintings illustrate discreet moments from her life as opposed to her collaboration with Chagani in Untitled (yet again watercolour and concrete), another indication of a solid footing. Shams’s miniature pieces are typical of the style where the execution is faint and meticulously painted but her concept depicts the quiet within her.
Focusing on purity and the soul within Amna Ilyas’s Untitled (Acrylic-Black) is a wonderful example of interplay between negative and positive space. The pedantically carved out form that materializes in front of the onlooker as a tree branching out with its shadowy reflection is a composition that accentuates skill, intelligence and originality. Hanging in solitude, Ilyas’s piece speaks to the viewer in an unobtrusive manner.
Ali Asad Naqvi, is the final artist in the show, with a series of scratched images on photo paper. His intricate patterns titled Earth X, XI and XII portray spiritual symbolism and it is undeniable that he has employed traditional design in a customary yet contemporary fashion. Naqvi’s aniconic images seem interlaced and embody a refusal to strictly adhere to the rules of geometry. A sense of freedom comes forth and the images offer a possibility of growth in terms of their ornamentation.
Sufism is like an inner dimension of Islam, and these six artists have expressed hidden archetypes in their own respective concrete symbols. For these artists the ritual of the viewer viewing and the work of the artist for him or herself evokes life, which resides within all these paintings. Each image is complex and multi-layered in its own respective semblance.
Shireen Ikram is a painter, art critic and museologist based in Islamabad, and writes for Dawn Gallery, Nukta Art Magazine and Blue Chip Magazine. She teaches Visual Arts at the National College of Arts in Rawalpindi.
Images courtesy Satrang Gallery, Islamabad