Curated by Muhammad Zeeshan and Noorjehan Bilgrami ‘Mera Safar’ (My Journey) opened at Koel Gallery in Karachi on 19th February, 2019. Fifteen artists showcased a wide array of works, delving deep into their interpretation of a ‘journey’, looking at their own personal experiences through an artistic lens.
Imran Channa’s three-channel video work displayed on their separate monitor screens uses black and white stills. The hazy, unclear quality of the images highlights the uncertainty of how the human mind remembers certain events, blurring the lines between reality and constructed alternate realities. Also working with the medium of video, Maryam Saleem’s minimalistic piece using visuals of a still plastic bag filled with water, holding a live fish within it. Another screen is laid flat on the floor underneath it, using close-up visuals of what appears to be the sea shore, with waves lapping across the beach debris. Both Channa and Saleem utilised the medium of video to personify the abstract idea of a journey in a surrealist manner.
Artists who worked particularly with portraits were Abdul Jabbar Gull and Ayaz Johkio. Gull presents an amalgamation of painting with sculpture. White panels parallel to each other depict two versions of the artist’s self-portrait in monochromatic blues, a profile from his youth facing off a profile of his current self. Much like his previous works, Jokhio creates a portrait by omitting the subject’s face altogether. Here, he paints the generic contours of a formal passport-sized photograph of a man in a suit atop a rectangular wooden frame, while keeping the centre of the frame hollow.
Some chose to take a deeply personal approach, primarily highlighting aspects that left an influence on both their artistic and emotional development. Munawar Ali Syed’s piece titled ‘My Mother’s Tears’ showcases a gilded, round frame holding a vintage, black and white photograph of what is probably the artist’s own family photo. Dripping from the photograph is dried red paint. Syed’s work overtly speaks of death and facing the repercussions that follow, particularly for those who are left behind to deal with it. Rehana Mangi also draws inspiration from her childhood, using the medium of thread to embody memories of doing cross stitch when she was younger. Merging it with gold leaf and translucent washes on wasli, the thread is used to replicate pixel-like embroidery pieces. Noor Ali Chagani’s sculptural piece uses terracotta bricks to replicate a wall, with graffiti ‘Deewar Baraye Farokht’ (Wall for Sale) written on it in Urdu. The kind of walls he looks at are never in a permanent state and are constantly being drawn over, erased, repainted, even torn down and rebuilt, creating pieces to replicate them in a way to immortalise and preserve them in the current state they are in.
Several artists looked at each of their respective journeys through the lens of their past, highlighting their beginnings as students. Muhammad Ali Talpur mimics a white drawing sheet and uneven pencil lines as though drawn by an amateur artist, but this time on a large-scale canvas with acrylic paint. His piece subtly hints at an artist at the beginning of his career, using a basic drawing practice possibly from when he first started as a student. Also focusing on his experience as a school student, Raj Kumar pieces together white dice with fish wire, using red and blue colours to fill in the dice, creating the illusion of lined paper used in school writing notebooks. The lines, to him, act as margins that can symbolise both limitations and choice. The aspect of ‘chance’ is represented through the dice. Another artist who looks at his student life is Naveed Sadiq. His miniature pieces use tea stain and inks on wasli, cutting the base into two misaligned halves. The pieces also act as self-portraits as he includes visuals of himself. His work looks upon his transition from being a student to eventually leaving home and finding his way in the real world.
Artists also explored their creative realms through the medium of traditional painting. One of the more senior artists presenting, Mussarat Mirza uses a distinctive palette of murky greens and browns. Mirza talks about starting out as a young artist in Sukkur, including the influence of sand and dust in developing her palette, saying that she never used colours in their pure form. R.M. Naeem explores it in a metaphysical sense. Using primary colours, his acrylic on canvas pieces narrate journeying of the soul during and after life. Aqeel Solangi titles his acrylic on canvas piece ‘Surkh Galaban De Mausam Vich’ (In a Season of Red Roses). The Punjabi phrase is taken from poetry by Khwaja Ghulam Fareed and Mazhar Tirmizi, while also drawing inspiration from other South Asian literature.
A collection of his past and current work, Irfan Gul Dahri presents five paintings, ranging from the years 2004, 2010, 2012, 2016 and 2019 respectively. The disparity of the pieces depicts his artistic practice transitioning between subjects in both figurative and abstract form. Similarly, Waseem Ahmed creates an assemblage of all his previous works and personal experiences. Piecing together photographs, drawings and paintings on one canvas, Ahmed maps out his life through collecting all the things that influenced or shaped his practice.
The show aimed to capture each artist’s approach to dealing with their past while juxtaposing it with their present, granting them the opportunity to showcase the kind of transitions and growth they’ve experienced on a professional level, and to create a dialogue for self-reflection regarding their personal narratives.