Curated by the famous interdisciplinary artist, Mohsin Shafi, Love Letters is a group show “dominated with letters”, organized by Sanat Initiative, featuring the works of various artists (mentioned in the end) including Mohsin, himself. The show’s timely opening on the 14th of February – Valentine’s Day – throws light on how the idea of love, rather its expression, has changed over the past decades, owing mainly to the influence of rapid and inevitable technological advances.
The artworks are predominantly bathed in warm shades of white, gold, beige, and brown, filling the air of the room with nostalgia and hopeless romance. Most of them are words to or from a loved one, paired with various forms and techniques of art including framed dried flowers on paper, old photographs (colored and monochrome, realistic portraits, self-portraits, trunks filled with possessions reminders of somebody special, greeting cards. The show also displays original handwritten love letters written to and from lovers, friends, and siblings. One might walk in with a blank mind but is sure to leave the gallery teary-eyed.
“The End Of A Love Song” by Lali Khalid will catch the attention of poetry enthusiasts almost instantly. It is a collection of neatly framed dried flowers, each frame paired with hard-hitting poetic one-liners such as “I am slowly putting away all the smells”, “Morning light in the room, another reminder”, “Dreamers, do they ever learn?”. Time seems to stop as one reads each song-like sentence, admiring the ironically undying beauty held by each dead flower glued against a soft white background.
“Untitled” by Julius John features a letter written in Urdu along with a photograph of the Christian couple, Shehzad Masih and Shama Bibi, burnt alive in 2014. The unfortunate incident behind this work and its political and religious context makes the heart heavy, and reading the letter by Shehzad addressed to his wife has an even stronger emotional effect.
Another one of the compelling works is “You Come To Me Like A Fluttering Butterfly” by Farazeh Syed; a layered mixed media collage featuring a photolike portrait of two women, their faces touching, surrounded by painted old buildings, people, and objects supposedly reminders of a lost past. Adding further to the nostalgic effect of the work of art are tiny, colorful flowers along with the famous song lyrics “Likhay jo khat tujhe” and “Laut jaati hai udher ko hi nazar kya kijiye” from Mujhse Pehli Si Mohabbat by Faiz beautifully scattered on it, that instantly and automatically began to play Madam Noorjehan and Mohammad Rafi’s melodious voices in one’s head. The combination of these colorful little bits with a mainly monochrome background make the work pleasing to the eyes and intriguing to the mind; perhaps it depicts the longing and remembrance of a past that stirs up mixed emotions in Syed.
Mohsin hopes to “address communication and its pitfalls in the modern era” through Love Letters. His project compels one to do a mental analysis of how, with time and information technology, the expression of love has reduced to merely typed texts, emails and instant chats, none of which can transform the recipient the way a love letter is able to. “A real love letter is made of insight, understanding, and compassion. Otherwise it’s not a love letter,” Mohsin quotes Thich Nhat Hanh.
“A real love letter deserves to be written by hand.”
The art of letter writing seems to be lost somewhere in the midst of the incessant chaos of this era, where everyone is a busy individual — too busy to even sit down and write their heart out to somebody they deeply care about, too busy to buy stamps and envelopes, too busy to walk to the post office. There is a noticeable lack of originality and candor in today’s communication, which are the foremost elements of any relationship; preparing a love letter is equivalent to sealing one’s heart in an envelope for the lover to see right through, which no longer happens anymore, thanks to the backspace key and the infamous auto-correct one now cannot imagine living without.
Love Letters by Mohsin illustrates exactly that and attempts to remind the viewer of the undeniable, timeless but somewhat lost charm of a classic handwritten love letter. Flowers and chocolate perish but the words of a loved one are imprinted on the mind and etched in the soul; they reside in our heart forever.
Abbas / Farazeh Syed / Fatima Saeed / Hurmat ul Ain / Inaam Zafar / Julius John / Lali Khalid / Mohsin Shafi / Nida Bangash / Nurjahan Akhlaq / Rabbya Naseer / Rehana Mangi / Sehr Jalil / Zohreen Murtaza