Apropos to Spring, when the Earth warms and Cupid’s arrows take flight, darkness reigns supreme. Here lies the whisper of the fecund, as well as reve
Apropos to Spring, when the Earth warms and Cupid’s arrows take flight, darkness reigns supreme. Here lies the whisper of the fecund, as well as revelations of hard, inescapable truth. It is these truths pertaining to love, trust and its betrayal, that Scherezade Junejo explores with her series of poignant figurative oil-on-canvas paintings in her solo exhibition ‘A Feast of Flesh and Blood’, curated by the eminent Adeel uz Zafar, which was on display in Sanat Initiative’s Karachi space, from 11th to 20th January 2022.
Immediately striking are the simultaneously de-eroticised and ideally formed nudes of women, contrasted with the deep Vermilion and Crimson tones of the symbolic heart. Indeed, Junejo’s forté and signature is the dramatic rendition of feminine bodies stripped of identity, characterised by references to the Mulveyan male gaze, and layered with censure in a culture rife with double-standard gender roles. The artist courageously perseveres in depicting “the pound of flesh” demanded by South Asian patriarchy of women, in the high stakes for independence, power, autonomy and social frameworks that steer personal choice.
Adeel uz Zafar’s masterful comprehension of spatial dynamics underscores Junejo’s modestly dimensioned works amongst Sanat Initiative’s vast ivory gallery space, allowing for intelligent dialogue between the two-bodies of work, entitled ‘Matters of the Heart: of Loneliness and Love Letters’ and ‘Matters of the Soul: of Violation and Angst”.
‘Matters of the Heart…’ is Junejo’s collective ode to unrequited expressions of romantic attachment, and in the common parlance of contemporary digital culture, the titles of many works reflect the fleeting nature of imbalanced relationships. ‘To All the Boys I’ve Ever Loved’ (1 through 8), utilises the stylised heart motif in various cut-out silhouettes on paper, with a nod to the titular popular romantic-comedy film series, a study in navigating the confusion of conflicting passions. ‘To All the Boys I’ve Ever Loved-8’ and ‘Hide and Seek’, are testaments to harmonious compositional balance and calculated use of chromatic value. Tonalities of Viennese Red punctuated by darkness are a veritable feast for the eyes. While these works remain visually arresting references to the fragility of eros, Junejo truly shines with the incorporation of varied elements, as in ‘Balloon Girl -2’ (60 x 36 Inches), easily read as an homage to celebrated English graffiti-artist Banksy’s ‘Balloon Girl’. While appropriative, the thematic engagement is in no sense derivative, questioning the value placed on policing women’s cultural, social and even marital relations, and blatantly using their flesh as sites of ‘honour. Here, one sees the balloon as a caricatured lexical tool to delineate freedom from social construct, and by extension the cries of the Aurat March for example, from the vitriol directed at them in the name of ‘modest’ acceptance of out-dated norms.
Similarly, works in ‘Matters of the Soul…’ categorically highlight gendered conflict, using the tropes of hunters and their prey to speak of the silent pandemic: domestic violence and its insidious, often culturally acceptable face. Objectification and emotional detachment often precede psychological disharmony in the skewed schemas of the perpetrators of criminal abuse, however it is the subtler dismissal of women’s status that is equally harmful. ‘Trophy Wife’ (1 and 2), cleverly conceal genitalia with layered gold leaf, while revealing the concern for superficial harmony that prevails in one too many male-female relationships. Junejo is at ease with both social and personal narrative, as illustrated by the accoutrements of theatrically horned ibex-heads and hyper-realistic contours of both drapery, and the physical torsion of skin, bone and muscle. The artist’s familiar blend of anatomical excellence in the vein of Classic Humanism, selective saturation and tonal variation, qualitatively define this body of work. ‘Better Half’ and ‘Target Practice’ are perhaps the most direct visual metaphors for discrimination and the emotional decimation of shattered dreams, un-met desires and expectations, torn apart by local ‘pidr-shahi’s contempt for equality, as well as a universal lamentation of harassment that goes unacknowledged daily.
There is a well of emerging discourse in pro-feminist art and literature allowing for growing debate on traditionally taboo subject matter, yet the belligerence of society remains an obstacle for artists such as Junejo, who wish to breach limiting boundaries of being a woman, an artist, a painter of the nude, and a social commentator. While 2022 sees a trickling resurgence of cultural avenues opening for public consumption, it behoves us to re-embrace their value as harbingers of progressive change, such that our encounters with raw, mordant, discomfiting and charismatic subject matter, leave our characters sown with the seeds of change. ‘A Feast of Flesh and Blood’ leaves its mark as Junejo’s love-letter to a new generation of sisterhood in solidarity.