Our world today is very visibly obsessed with the Avant-garde, the original, the out-of-the-box. While invention was fueled by necessity in the 20th c
Our world today is very visibly obsessed with the Avant-garde, the original, the out-of-the-box. While invention was fueled by necessity in the 20th century, the 21st is looking for the new and the exciting to captivate the imaginations of a race that has seen everything in its millions of years in existence. Artists and other creative folks are probably the most under pressure to innovate, expected to come up with earth-shattering ideas that change the world.
Samreen Sultan is not in search of the new, however, but instead chooses to question the whole idea of it in a world where communications and boundaries are fluid and we have access to a barrage of knowledge on our fingertips. Each new idea is an extension, rearrangement or mutation of something already in existence, taking inspiration from, or reacting to, what came before. In essence, when enough thought is spared we realize it is true that a mere human cannot truly ‘create’, only imitate, presenting our own unique version of the old.
Sultan’s latest body of works displayed at Full Circle Gallery in the show “#Hashtag” curated by Muhammad Zeeshan takes a surrealist approach to this idea with the appropriation of pre-existing artworks of unknown and well-known artists, such as Salvador Dali, with her own interventions to create excitingly bizarre visuals. The artist’s pure joy at having free reign untethered by conceptual concerns is starkly evident. This is an artist who is having fun creating art, introducing element which she feels work visually, removing the filter of what should be.
While the idea of the original is something Sultan questioned in her dissertation during her Bachelors, she was able to revisit it when she started her residency at Can Serrat with no specific ideas, predispositions, or even materials to work with. She began by exploring her surroundings and soon came across discarded artworks by previous resident artists and started experimenting with them. Debates about ownership and credit and the ethics of this practice ensued and soon the central question of the work emerged: is there such a thing as the original?
This culminated into a series of strange and surreal works, with scratched paint, drawings, writings, objects and fantastical visuals layered on top of found artworks and prints, acting like a one way dialogue, a collaboration with an unknowing artist. Recurring visuals inspired from her time at Can Serrat, images found on the web and in magazines, works by famous as well as unknown artists and elements from her own previous works can be seen throughout the works, reaffirming the futility of the search for originality. “#Collaboration #CanSerrat #trash”, “#Collaboration #CanSerrat #trash2”, “#collaboration #foundimages” are some great examples of this.
At the same time, Sultan is also looking at the bombardment of information given to us through the internet and search engines, and how that, consciously or subconsciously, contributes to the birth of ideas. Her works quip at the overuse of hashtags, which, although were a well-meant tool to streamline searches, now serves to confuse and disorient. Each piece reflects this disconnect and confusion with its layering of unrelated images through digital manipulation and collage. The result is a surrealist, fantastical atmosphere where limbs grow out of objects, pianos fly about, and clouds replace the floor. The singular image of the egg recurs as a metaphor in various forms, however, tying in the idea of the original through the existential debate; what came before the chicken or the egg?
However, what is amazing about these works is how cohesive they still manage to be. The intended randomness takes on meaning as one can make various connections so that themes of femininity, fertility, history, politics, media and consumerism and numerous other issues emerge, while the artist merely combines unrelated, sometimes unknown images. What is even more interesting is that the artist’s own interventions are so seamless, one cannot tell what is old and what is new, and it all becomes one entirely new piece of its own.
So then who is to say this work is not original? While the works seem to reject the idea of the original with the use of pre-existing artworks and images, they also unwittingly do the opposite. It is safe to assume that much like everything else, the word itself should be redefined in the 21st century, and it is not creating something new and original that matters but rather something unique informed by prior experiences and influences which has meaning and significance for the viewer. Because at the end of the day, that’s what humans are, a collection of experiences, and that’s what art is, unique and meaningful.