Muzzumil Ruheel, one of the Pakistan’s leading contemporary artists Pakistan is exhibiting at Grosvenor Gallery, London in collaboration with Canvas Gallery, Karachi. Ruheel’s current body of work are extractions of his conversations that he has overheard either while walking down the street or while sitting at a chai-wallah. He is a diverse artist and has the ability to work in a variety of mediums including painted canvases, video-art, performance art, photography and multi-media works. He has already accumulated a large number of awards and has exhibited in group and solo shows globally.
Ruheel relishes in the art of storytelling through his paintings, layering calligraphic texts into his work. The work “Shadows Circus” is a group of four, large, heavily painted, black canvases, layered with tones of uniform grey text. This work seems chaotic at first but as the viewer spends time gazing into its depths of grey, the mood changes and the paintings begin to exhibit a quiet, meditative appeal.
In the current show, Ruheel uses text as his primary visual media, inscribing stories of the living, the dead, the present and the past. The text often narrates accounts of random over-heard conversations heard at the canteen or even excerpts of people’s conversations passing by. In other instances, he will read historical documents and recreate them in his visual works. None of this comes as a surprise as Ruheel has studied journalism and political science at Government College, Lahore. It is clear that his view of the world is not just a stark black and white, but a collection of murky greys.
Ruheel is attempting to document time itself in his work. In “He Threw His Watch Away” there is a hint of a man sitting on a chair and perhaps holding a cigar in his other hand. The whole photograph is covered with layers and layers of calligraphic text in tones of grey. Within these uniformed, calligraphic incantations Ruheel tries to invoke a bygone era and awaken our senses which have been dulled by impressions from social media and mundane events. His calligraphy is formal and precise with each and every letter true to its form.
“Morphed” is a series of 8 paintings worked in ink on handmade wasli paper. In this series, Ruheel has worked with geometrical shapes, which verge on abstraction. These shapes are tightly packed, and over stacked with calligraphic text. From a distance this seems to be an entangled and a disorderly mess but upon closer inspection it is quite the opposite. The texts create a feeling or sense of unity of purpose.
In “Red Cloak”, Ruheel works with a new colour, red. This painting is immersed in a deep shade of red layered with his trademark calligraphic text. One can identify a few letters but the story has been left to the viewer’s imagination. “The Leftover Excerpts from the Red Wall” is another captivating painting with a similar colour scheme. It is covered in a deep shade of red with a black square in the middle. The painting is riddled with undecipherable text leaving the viewer to negotiate his way through the woven calligraphic sentences. The painting reminds one of an urban landscape – always threatening, always in danger.
Ruheel’s work is a powerful reminder that life is worth living, that conversations do matter and that sometimes rather than living our lives in an entangled mess, and from interaction to interaction, maybe if we take a step back one can find direction and peace within oneself.