Irfan Abdullah – Exploring the Intersection of Form and Sociopolitical Narratives


Irfan Abdullah – Exploring the Intersection of Form and Sociopolitical Narratives

His artistic journey is a testament to his mastery of materials in crafting thought-provoking sculptures that engage viewers through profound sociopo

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His artistic journey is a testament to his mastery of materials in crafting thought-provoking sculptures that engage viewers through profound sociopolitical narratives.

Notions of form, representation, and content within the arts and crafts are among the most fluid yet not completely unbounded concepts. For those well-versed in the sociology of art and art history, it becomes evident that these domains are highly contested, making it challenging to arrive at widely accepted foundations and fixed points of departure in related discourse.

Drawing on historical fact, we can look to artists who sought alternative avenues to the dictates of European academic art institutions in the 19th and 20th centuries. They turned to studying primitive art, searching for new ways to access intuition and liberate their own precepts. In his book titled “Primitive Art” (Boas, Franz; Dover Publication, 1955), Boas establishes the connections between technological perfection in craft and the representation of objects for decorative, functional, and ritualistic purposes, even at early cultural stages.

Irfan Abdullah recently participated in a group exhibition curated by Robella Ahmed, called “State of Despair” at Full Circle Gallery (Full Circle Gallery Karachi: July 7th to 17th, 2023). According to the curator, the exhibition is a conversation about the current political landscape, emphasizing the recurring theme of vanishing promises made to repair endured fractures and dents. The show delves into the intricacies of power structures and dynamics, exploring the turbulent situation of the country and exposing the impact of intricate webs of influence on the lives of locals (Robella Ahmed, July 2023).

Born in 1998 in Lahore, Abdullah majored in painting from the National College of Arts Lahore and graduated with Distinction in 2022. He focuses on capturing human experiences through the accumulation and manipulation of different materials and cultural ideologies. Abdullah explores various mediums to create larger-than-life installations and figurative sculptures, infusing meaning into everyday objects that often go unnoticed. His works have been exhibited in several galleries, including O Art Space, VM Art Gallery, Pakistan Art Forum, Koel, Full Circle Gallery, Alhamra Art Council, Haam Gallery, Lakeer, Ejaz Art Gallery, Art Chowk, The Colony, and Como Museum. Currently residing and working in Lahore, Pakistan, Abdullah’s art is showcased with the courtesy of Full Circle Gallery, Karachi.

The curatorial statement and Abdullah’s works create a powerful amalgamation of message, intention, and technique inherent in the sculptures. A brief telephonic conversation with the artist reveals that the results are the product of experimentation and learning. Artists in Pakistan, despite facing constraints and obstacles in their pursuit of real-world instantiation, have relatively better access to methodologies not easily available elsewhere.

The sculptures appear to be crafted from compressed layers of resins and old-fashioned razor shaving blades, with metallic components that evoke a visceral reaction, heightened appreciation, and wonder. One sculpture features a large folded expanse of resin and anodized blades, while the other takes the form of a large female bust. Interestingly, the curator emphasizes the accomplished way the work expresses the curatorial intent, giving secondary place to technique.

Two considerations come into play here. First, in advertising, Marshall McLuhan writes about brand communication, stating that the medium itself is the message and introduces new scales into our affairs with each extension of ourselves or new technology (Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man ©1964). Second, John Dewey and others argue that an artwork’s expression should also consider the degree to which the work itself becomes an expressive object. This modern-day semantic argument surfaces when message and medium converge in an emotive resonance in the viewer.

While Abdullah’s career and prowess may lead to ideas of precocity, the artist himself speaks of a durational process named trial and error, acknowledging that nothing substantial is achieved magically but through persistent attempts. Sculptors, like Abdullah, are well aware of the hazards of materials they wrestle with to gain control, with only the most committed and undeterred artisans willing to risk injury to find safe ways to achieve their goals.

Abdullah’s mastery of materials in service of profound sociopolitical narratives stands as a testimony to art’s enduring potential to engage viewers on multiple levels and spark contemplation on pressing societal issues. The work evokes astonishment, surprise, shock, stupefaction, consternation, perplexity, awe, and wonder in viewers, leaving a lasting impact on their minds.