Mimesis, a theory used by Plato and Aristotle, suggests that all artistic creation is a representation and, therefore, an imitation of nature. Thus, just as times have changed so also has artistic expression. Our surroundings, lives, preferences, even our individuality ultimately influence what our hands produce. Nothing different can be said about the group of thirteen young artists who displayed their work this July, at the Gandhara-Art Space gallery in Karachi.
Titled, Microcosm, the show exhibited upcoming talent as well as artists completely new to the art-scene. As the name suggests, these artists were prudently chosen so that collectively their oeuvres could describe the jist of what the future of Pakistani art may look like. The proposal for this show was suggested by Adeel uz Zafar, a prominent Pakistani artist, who was also the curator of the exhibition. He explained that his selection was carefully sort out after months of following these up-comers’ artistic journeys and then going on to further guide their processes for this show.
A variety of themes and mediums were explored through this course of this show, including an interactive piece by Arsalan Nasir. Casually kept near the entrance of the gallery, Nasir’s work was an exact replica of the 1972 arcade game, ‘Pong’ after which it was named. It followed the same two-dimensional graphics as the original game of table tennis but instead of the typical 1 and 2 numbering for each player, Pakistan and India took its place. Audience members could play the two-player game by inserting two coins and this attracted all age groups. Games are replications of reality in some form or the other; pinning two against each other will obviously raise the competitive levels as their can only by one winner. Similarly, labeling Player 1 and 2 as Pakistan and India, one recalls the constant and sometimes childish dispute between the two countries. Be it cricket matches or denied visas, the hostility between the neighbors is high and evident. It is true that many, especially the youth, have tried to push away prejudice and offer olive branches to the other, but many still exist with blind enmity for the opposing side. Nasir manages to successfully entertain his audience while bringing to light one of the most prevalent issues, all while using an item iconic to those who’ve experienced the pre-online era.
Near ‘Pong’ and following the theme of socio-political issues, artist, Noman Siddiqui, stood out for his sheer brilliance of skill. Working with sculptures, Siddiqui exhibited two works opposite each other, both equally realistic and stimulating. On the left wall, twelve, larger than normal, fiber glass lollipops hang, each one sporting their own colour. The level of perfection within piece adds to their hyperrealism, which can also be said for the piece opposite. These candies come as representatives of the helplessness of the public, who can do nothing but sit, watch and aimlessly suck on the proverbial lollipop as higher authorities, to fit their own agendas, constantly manipulate the news in the country. On the other side, a set of five sculptures, resembling meat, are each placed on a plate and titled, ‘Disparity’. Created from silicone, one can feel the rawness of each piece. As the audience moved from left to right of the display, it became noticeable that the size of the plate and meat gets considerably smaller, even the quality of the cutlery simplifies. This work could suggest not only the proportion that those of different economic classes can afford but also their treatment in society because of their financial stature. Meat is an important food product, especially in our society, but as it is also a commodity one can only receive as much as he can afford.
Moving along, the viewers come in contact with the works of Haider Ali, which are also displayed opposite each other. On one side a six-foot wide frame hangs with graphite drawing crumpled and press inside. The drawing appears to be one of the most relatable scenes for any Pakistani: a traffic jam. On the other side rests twelve UV prints of various construction sights on found stones. His work comments on the different places within the city, specifically the built environment. The drawing displays a scene of a traffic jam atop a bridge, which is ironic as the construction of a bridge is to avoid this very scenario and instead ease traffic flow. Ali’s description of the scene becomes more accurate from his choice of crumpling the paper as he removes the traditional role of the artwork, which is to be preserved and carefully kept. He challenges the preciousness of the works by, not only destroying a drawing that, judging from the detail, took time to complete, but also by using an expensive form of print on discarded and broken building material. This juxtaposition of the valued and useless allows Ali to create a whole new visual for the audience to admire.
Likewise, Hassan Raza also talks about the construction and deconstruction of the city. Using shuttering wood (balli) as his core sculptural material, Raza produced three pieces for this exhibit. Balli is a construction material itself, used to support ceiling floor pillars. The artist removes this object from its original site and strips it of its actual purpose, but at the same time uses it to describe the very construction it was initially meant for; almost like the wood has now come to tell the gallery’s spectators the story of its journey. The work is commendable for its intricate detail and resemblance to an actual cityscape.
Safdar Ali is also one who deals with the built environment of today. His work creates a dialogue with the viewer describing the lack of identification a human feels with their creation. The sense of distrust and inadequacy felt, not only with built structures, but with culture and society itself become his dismembered raw material that he reconstructs to produce objects that represent only but a shell of a person; someone that was but no longer is.
Some of the art constructed came from personal spaces of the artists as well. One such body of work was by Razin Rubin. In a small corner near the entrance, Rubin arranged four light boxes that lit up whenever someone entered the space. Each box exposed a simple photograph of the artist’s hand holding up an older image against a contemporary background. The furniture in the image is identical to the current setting but the space and people aren’t. Her work describes the loneliness and hardship she and her siblings face after the passing of their parents. One can feel the isolation and want for memories to be reality again as Rubin’s hand clings to to each image. Each photograph is overflowing with love and happiness and that coupled with the space of exhibition truly adds to the intimacy of the work.
In a similar way, Amna Rahman discusses the personal space among women. Growing up in a culture where one is taught to keep their distance from the opposite sex, comfort is usually found among those of the same gender. Comparably, the truer side of a female: her plain face, exposed skin and strong gaze may tend to come out only among other women. Rahman captures these moments on canvas for the audience to see and though, the woman in each canvas is exposed to the gaze, they stare back at them, reminding the audience what it feels like to be gawked at.
Haya Zaidi’s work deals with the consumerists’ society of today. By appropriating images from high-class lifestyle magazine, she comments on the wrong turn capitalism has led everyone to. In this show, particularly, her art discusses the role of the female; using her body to make a living and still being held as the culprit. The woman is the object of the painting in much the same way as she is in real life. Zaidi’s distorting and intermingling of objects result in quite grotesque imagery. Coupled with its complex backgrounds and contrasting hues, the artist is successful in producing striking visuals.
In opposition to Zaidi’s figures, tarnished by society, Samya Arif’s females stand positive against visually satisfying backgrounds. The only illustrator in this exhibition, Arif’s work blatantly stands out among the rest. Her work is fresh and unlike the usual Pakistani art scene. Accompanied with each illustration is an audio, both adhering to the theme of the life of a woman living in Karachi, the expectations and the heroes. Her use of psychedelic colours not only is attractive, but also reminds everyone that amidst all the negativity, our culture is full of colour and vibrancy.
Close by hangs the horizontal canvas of artist, Fahad Saleem Faridi. Painstakingly created, both of his paintings house abstract forms that look different to each viewer. Made in monochromatic hues, Faridi removes all distractions of colour and allows the audience to focus solely on the form and the process of creation, which is evident during a close up. It is meditative to stand in front of one his pieces and move from one dot to the next until the whole form comes into view. It could also be described as giving an insight into the human psyche as each one’s interpretation of the immaterial forms could be attributed to their individuality.
Visual likeness to the aforementioned can be observed in the detailed pieces of Onaiz Taji. Like Faridi, his paintings are made up of tiny forms that come together to create an unknown shape. However, Taji’s painted forms are actually people and both his paintings deal with activities that attract large crowds. Placed perpendicular to each other, Taji opens the viewers’ eyes to the sad reality of human mentality. In one piece the crowd surrounds a band and enjoys the music played, in the other, a group of comparable size also surrounds something covered in bright crimson; a mutilated body. Here too the people have gathered with this cruelty as their entertainment describing how sheepish individuals can sometimes be.
Two video artworks by artists, Arslan Farooqi and Sufyan Baig were also a part of this exhibition. Farooqi’s projection creates a narrative for the viewer; different scenes from miniature paintings are animated, compiled together and accompanied with a soundtrack. His work brings to life, one of the oldest forms of art, which not only entertains the contemporary market but also informs them of these age-old chronicles. Baig’s piece consists of a life size chair that faces a video projection of another chair left in the center of a ground. Waste lies around object, perhaps from a former event. Nothing moves or happens and there is no connection with the real world except through the two chairs facing each other, as if, in dialogue. Through video, both these artists bring other worlds to the gallery, showing how advanced technology has gotten over the years and moreover, how it is and will continue to the change the face of art.
In direct opposition to theory of mimesis, Oscar Wilde once wrote, ‘Life imitates art far more that art imitates life’ suggesting that art takes life, recreates it and provides its audience with a fresh new package unlike the representation it actually aimed at. Furthermore, future lives aspire to live up to the neatly presented visual as if it were reality. This statement holds ground in the work seen in this show, however, having said that, it is also important to realize intriguing packages attract viewers to come closer, spend time with the work learn what they’re about. Having a personal dialogue with each work can even allow the audience to even see the actual reality behind the art’s rose-colored exterior and hopefully see the truth of the real world.