It has become common practice for contemporary artists today to create work that can be placed in a broader societal context and explicate complex thoughts to the viewer. Unless a conscientious effort is not made to identify all possibilities an art work could hold it is not likely that the work can be appreciated to its fullest. The viewer must attempt to peel away and scrutinize the multiple layers of ideas and concepts the artist has depicted so as to truly understand it. While the artist revels in their intellectual glory, the general public is left scratching their heads. Granted, the notion behind art exhibits goes beyond pleasing the layman or garnering attention for producing a “pretty picture”. However, with the number of thought-provoking and intellectually profound exhibitions being churned out a dime-a-dozen, even the most ardent viewer of art could do with a change of pace.
‘The ‘M’ Factor’ provides just that change. On display in the month of June at Canvas Gallery in Karachi, the show provided audiences with a refreshing sight of drawings and paintings that spoke for themselves and boasted no complex narratives and ideologies. Comprised of works by Lahore- and Karachi-based artists Madiha Hyder, Madiha Sikander, Maria Khan and Mohan Das, each artist’s work maintained its identity whilst managing to gel together harmoniously. The dominant theme of the exhibition was the highly skill-based techniques that each artist displayed. While these contemporary artists opted to work in conventional media, they also managed to combine them with contemporary practices and imagery, helping their work attain the right balance. The imagery was clear and simple for all to see, with subtle analogies, none of which were too avant-garde for the average viewer to decipher.
With four paintings exhibited, the concept conveyed in Madiha Hyder’s work fundamentally remained the same in all. Through the process of introspection, Hyder depicts the general mindset of a privileged individual residing in Pakistan, who is immune to the rampant violence and tragedy by which she is surrounded. She expands her visual language by digitally altering sections of a newspaper (which is a constant theme in her work) and overlaying them onto her composition, in which painted figures are surrounded by these clippings. Her colour palette of vibrant earthy tones used on the figures, which she skillfully applies, presents a stark contrast against the white and black of the newspaper text printed on the canvas. We Are Not Alone sparks the most intrigue for viewers who can identify it to be a continuation of sorts of a previous work. The initial painting on which this particular one was based showed a pregnant woman sitting in a small room surrounded by news clippings. In We Are Not Alone, the woman now sits in a similar space with her newborn child and the painting hangs on the wall behind her.
While Hyder meticulously fills each canvas of hers with an intricate amount of detail, Maria Khan’s larger than life charcoal drawings on canvas demonstrate a much bolder form of expression. With her characteristic line drawings of grotesque female forms and deliberate white patches, Khan manages to immerse the viewer into the work completely and leave a haunting image etched in ones mind. Her clever and defined use of the colours red and yellow on her black and white drawing is striking to the eye and aesthetically pleasing. Not only does her work evoke a sense of foreboding, Khan’s dynamic style of drawing and mark making is one for all to admire. The Hungry Woman exudes a feeling of discomfort as a plump, aged woman turns around and stares directly into the viewer’s eyes with a lustful, unnerving expression.
The drabness of Khan’s and Hyder’s dark, subtle tones is resisted by Mohan Das in his vividly painted wall sized canvases. The artist works with vibrant hues and the influence of truck art/pop art is evident in all his paintings. Das manages to skillfully blend colours, creating smooth gradients in the background. He pays homage to cultural figures and renowned artists such as Rembrandt, Jackson Pollock, Mona Lisa and our very own Maula Jutt by depicting them in his own style. Some of his works convey a humorous side of the artist to the viewers, such as Mona Jutt and Mona Lisa With LPG Cylinder. An interesting feature of Mohan Das’ work is his treatment of the overall surface; the artist has geometrically painted small circles across the entire canvas in a manner that suggests it to be enfolded in bubble wrap, the sheen of each bubble evident and the characteristic feel of plastic wrap prevalent.
Mohan Das. Enamel Lid with Jackson Pollock. Acrylic on Canvas. 60″x40″.
Madiha Sikander’s work adds a subtle balance to the entire exhibition as she uses a light, translucent medium (watercolours) as opposed to thick oils/acrylic paint or charcoal and works on a comparatively small scale. Her paintings possess a lucid, dream-like characteristic with soft tones and delicate washes applied with precision. Time We Spent/Spend Together is of a larger scale and garners the strongest impact.
None of the work demanded too much dialogue or debate. Its main aim was to provide a visual journey which audiences from all walks of life could relate to in their own manner. For the art enthusiast, there was a bit more if one could recognize the cultural and historical references and identify with the artist’s mode of working. For those who could not, there was not much to miss – the visual impact was there for all to see and admire. ‘The ‘M’ Factor’ was a pleasant and intriguing exhibition for which one need not rack their brains too much, but simply step back, enjoy the artwork and applaud them for keeping it simple.
Mahvish Farid graduated from Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture in 2013 with a degree in Fine Art. She is an Assistant Editor at ArtNow.
All images courtesy Canvas Gallery.