“Probably most of you have not thought about this problem at all: to die each day… That means not to carry over from yesterday all your ambitions, grievances, your memories of fulfillment, your grudges, your hatred. You understand? To die every day… To die is to know what love is. Love has no continuity, no tomorrow. The picture of a person on the wall, the image, in your mind – that is not love, it is merely memory. Love means, surely, to die to everything that you have known. As love is the unknown, so death is the unknown. So you cannot love with the known. And to enter the unknown, which is death, one must die every day to everything.”
Excerpt from 7th Public Talk in Paris, 1961
Arguably, love and death are the chief obsessions of any human psyche that oils a propelling society. Being emotional beings, love and affection lay foundation to most of our interactions with other people. Death being an inevitable truth and end to every life form, continually preoccupies our conscious and sub conscious thought process. Life, emotions, and inevitable death have been forever recurring themes in literature, poetry, music, art, and films. Symbolic paintings around love, death, life, and hope were more popular amongst the Victorian audience, however, these themes have been proven timeless and several artists over the centuries to now continue to delve into their responding human emotions to these indomitable entities.
For Quddus Mirza, love and death are two sides of the same coin that meld to form a resolute double edged sword. In his latest solo exhibition that was recently held at Canvas Gallery, Mirza presents his impulsive responses that culminate as a cacophony of various emotions and expressions around love and death that one as a viewer may find very familiar.
Mirza is not concerned with the end product or objet d’art. He lends agency to the process of making art and takes a more passive stance in his encounter. It is the spontaneity that lets the ‘art-making’ take control and manoeuvre his language, the narrative, as well as the final imagery. By doing so, the art-making becomes the work, which consequentially opens a discourse on the convoluted dynamics of ‘process art’ and its transformative nature to qualify and present itself as a finished object. By spotlighting the actual doing and how actions define a work of art, Mirza sees the art as pure human expression. He entails an inherent motivation, rationale, and intentionality where he views art as a creative journey or process, rather than as a deliverable or an end product. Smitten by the making, the artist dialogues – the shapes and the visuals are the result of the interaction of artist’s actions; the type and viscosity of the paint, the choice of medium, and the selection of imagery, or the direction of his strokes. Often calculated, but mostly spontaneous, the loud gestures and the uninhibited techniques and languages make his work bare and vulnerable, and yet they empower as the process of its making is not hidden but remains a prominent aspect of the completed piece, so that a part or even the whole of its subject is the making of the work.
Perhaps one of the most striking images in this body of work is in “B 4 Blood.” The ghostly portrayal of the twin towers of the World Trade Centre spew smoke while an obscure remnant of an airplane surfaces from behind. Before the tall edifice is a congregation of mammalian creatures, possibly a pack of wolves, or a herd of sheep, that face the same direction and lay in tandem in a lurid profusion of blood. The morbid imagery feels less of a recollection; despite its citation to the bygone, the visual retains potency and alludes to an ominous, dystopian alternate that the viewer gets to peek in.
In “It Must” a solitary figure looms in a perceivable void. Next to them is a black and white portrait of an aged man in contemplation that the subject could possibly be reflecting back to. A further collage of images laid in on the canvas depicts an empty interior space and a work file. Below these, a bold subtitle “It must have been love” bathes in an oxblood dye. One cannot avoid but empathise with the ambiguous figure that is possibly occupied in their thoughts around their unrequited love – an emotion that most of us may nimbly relate to. They wait, they long, and they look back in nostalgia, all the while assuring – or deluding – themselves that “it must have been love.”
The tragedy of losing a loved one is replayed in “Death and the Maiden.” Two bodies sit next to each other, possibly in the confined air cabin as insinuated by the re-emergence of the aeroplane. One of the figures is visibly dead. Mauled, stained, and rotten, the skeletal corpse lays still. An indecipherable map marks the parameters of the damage caused by a possible warfare. The figure next to it remains stunned. The bedlam is stressed by the aggressive, flickering marks exercised by the artist.
Lone figures keep reappearing in several pieces by Mirza. They either sit in their self-built, confined states of mind, or lay bewildered in the unsolicited daunting depths of the void, infected and marred by the engulfing mayhem.
Perhaps more than death and love, the works speak about loneliness. Perhaps loneliness is that common thread which ties both death and love as the indicated two sides of the same coin. We are afraid to die and we are afraid to fall in love. We are enamoured by the idea of love as well as by the notion of death. We are afraid to lose someone as we are afraid to not have our love reciprocated. Anything that is left unreturned or unreciprocated is a form of loss itself, and the grief and fear we experience is similar in both circumstances.
Further, human being is both condemned to love and die. Our fear to step into an unforeseen, unchartered territory takes the same form. However, the gift of our deaths saves us from the inescapability of the dulling of our love. The intensity that we associate to romantic love requires a future that can allow its elaboration. That intensity is of the moment, to be assertive, but is also limited to the unfolding of a trajectory that it sees as its fate. If we were stuck in the same moment, the same day, day after day, the love might still remain, but its animated passion would begin to diminish. This is why romantic love requires death. The two clash, and coalesce, but remain inseparable.