Childhood memories are those beautiful chapters of life which no one could ever tried to forget, instead many big names have been produced in the history of creativity – writers, poets, musicians and artists – who would carry a bag of memories on their shoulders which gradually turned into the crown of success on their heads. There each piece of work would have a glimpse of their past which became one of the reasons of their success.
Vera John Steiner, an award winning scholar of creativity and education, beautifully sheds light on the facts that spurs a person to become creative. She writes in her book “Notebooks of the mind”:
“Among the invisible tools of creative individuals is their ability to hold on to the specific texture of their past. Their skill is akin to that of a rural family who lives through the winter on food stored in their root cellar. The creative use of one’s past, however, requires a memory that is both powerful and selective”.
Born to a craft-oriented family and grown up in Hyderabad, Ghulam Hussain is one of those committed and successful visual artists whose work and past has a vigorous connection.
In his recent exhibition titled ‘Mind=Blown’ at the Sanat Gallery, Ghulam Hussain spread the magic of his signature work of weaved horizontal and vertical patterns on the canvas. He thinks that the traditional craft or local craft (rillis, chattais and charpais) is low in comparison to Op art (abstract work that uses optical illusions) is a high art, thus he merges traditional craft with the modern craft, opt art. His medium was graphite on canvas which would look like the block prints used in Sindh.
Ghulam Hussain gladly explains that his art work is what he has seen through the years of his childhood. His family is the first impetus of the work he does. He grew up seeing his father weaving chattais and rillis, which Sindh is famous for. He would closely observe his father’s weaving techniques and would see the emerged patterns as a magic. The beautiful chattais and rillis, weaved in harmony, fascinated him to pursue his career in art.
His first institution was his own house from where the journey of the talented boy begun. His inspiration was his father and brother – an art teacher and an artist – at the time when Hyderabad was not considered a modern and advance city. No one could imagine that this young boy from Hyderabad, initially whose work was not considered as an art, would get his work selected at the Chashama Art Gallery, New York.
His work selection at Chashama Art Gallery, New York, in 2013 opened new dimensions for his art career. He spent most of his time in seeing the artworks of masters where he came across the works of Piet Mondrian that attracted Hussain and after a long research and study on Mondrian’s work, he held an exhibition “Woven Narratives: a dialogue with Piet Mondrian”.
One would wonder how long an artist would keep playing on the same medium and form of art but Hussain has proved this wrong every times he displays his artwork by bringing different themes without losing the touch of tradition, which could be challengeable for any artist.
Ghulam Hussain’s current show at Sanat Gallery mesmerized viewers with the art works. The artist merged traditional craft and opt art to create visuals which were an outright confusion to the eye. He used graphite on canvas that emerged and overlapped creating visual illusions in each piece of his work.
The abstract patterns on the canvas with sheer foreground and background was difficult for a viewer to discern which the foreground is and which the background as though it is a maze. Speaking to some viewers at the exhibition, one of them thought that these tiny black and white boxes are rising and fading. They are lines merged together in a way that it is hard to understand from where does it start and where does it end.
Whereas Syed Kashif Ali Mohsin, an artist, said that the vibrating and loud patterns appearing at the foreground and merging with the background seems like a maze. The patterns are growing in the center which excites the eye and the more closely he looks at the art work, the more he gets lost in illusion.
Among all his brilliant artworks, there were two interesting pieces of Hussain, which caught everyone’s fancy. This one had small white and red boxes with a black background that resembled the block prints in ajrak. From a distance, this weaved canvas would look like two wings but as a viewer would go closer; it looked like a jump from one illusion to another with a distraction at the junction. The small red and white patterns weaved on the canvas decreases from left and right as they reach near the junction.
The other notable piece was hanging at the corner on a rod. This finely weaved canvas in black and white resembled chattais made in Sindh. This piece looked astounding from both sides. Hussain personally asked me to look from the front and then from the back to enjoy the beautifully weaved patterns on the canvas which was speaking out the beauty of the traditional craft.
There were more fascinating art works, which welcomed the viewer to another world of illusion with, completely different way of patterns weaved. There were rough edges on the sides and at the bottom of some artworks which distracts the eye from those small illusory boxes weaved on the canvas.
Ghulam Hussain actually blew minds of the viewers in “Mind=Blown” with his jaw dropping art works. His work, delving into memories of his home town and childhood, is minimal yet loud that beautifully describes the rollercoaster of his life from a young fascinated school boy who would adore his father’s work to a successful visual artist who has combined different school of thoughts, philosophies and definitions of art with his tradition and has come up with a fusion of craft and op art.
As Semir Zeki, a neurobiologist at University College London and director of the Institute of Neurasthenics observes:
“The artist is, in a sense, a neuroscientist, exploring the potentials and capacities of the brain, though with different tools”.
Ghulam Hussain’s artwork also teases the brain’s limits to decode the riddle in his work. He doesn’t confine his viewers to look at his work according to what he wants to convey. His work is perception centered and he enjoys and appreciates others perception about his work.
Initially, Hussain’s work was not seen as an art even in his thesis and was highly discouraged by teachers who commented saying, that “this is not an art”, but this determined artist did not give up on the idea of creating a fusion of two forms of art – local craft and Opt art – until the world acknowledged his work.
It would not be justified if I would not wrap up my article by calling this ambitious artist the Piet Mondrian of Pakistan.