8 artists, 8 stories, 8 experiences. ‘”Multiple Narratives” is a collaboration between Grosvenor Gallery in London and Canvas Gallery in Karachi showcasing art by eight contemporary artists from Pakistan. The artists are Imran Mudassar, Mahbub Jokhio, Muzzumil Ruheel, Noor Ali Chagani, Sajjad Nawaz, Salman Toor, Wardha Shabbir, and Yasser Vayani. Whilst a number of these artists have shown their work internationally, for some it will be the first time their work is exhibited outside of Pakistan. Some of the featured artists are either residing in Pakistan, or are working overseas.
The diversity of the works from paintings on canvas to charcoal drawings to installations is only to be expected from such a diverse group of artists. Wardah Shabbir’s “‘Sirat-e-Sajjar” ’, II & III are executed in the traditional style of miniature paintings, with a bright orange background that catches the eye. The viewer is immediately immersed in the intricate detail of the lush, green foliage that depicts pathways found in Lahore. Each and every leaf has been laboriously rendered to perfection. The ‘siraat’, or path, is a reminder to discard the worldly and embrace a spiritual path of trying to unite with the One.
In contrast to Shabbir’s brightly coloured paintings is Imran Mudassar’s installation “‘The Holy Invitation”’. These books in deep shades of marroons, blues and greens are a set of four beautiful leather -bound books with traditional Islamic motifs on the covers. The first impression one perceives is that these are holy books, but upon opening the books one finds that they are filled with non-religious material or are completely blank. The conventional symbols and motifs attract viewers and challenge their preconceived ideas about sacred books, and forcing them to experience something unexpected. The books are a brilliant physical manifestation of the cognitive dissonance that one finds permeating society. Salman Toor’s work on canvas. is painted in a style reminiscent of 19th century painters. The oil painting “‘The picnickers”’ is a delight to the eyes. Here we have four vividly painted figures engrossed in an intimate conversation completely oblivious to the outside world. The figures have a carefree attitude and are young in nature and just having fun. It is also a reminder that sometimes a simple outdoor activity such as a picnic can provide immense pleasure. His paintings bring together the world of fantasy and memories whilst exploring the complex relationship between class, sexuality, and sometimes violence.
Whereas, Mahbub Jokhio’s drawings titled ‘Blue Pen’ and ‘Red Pen’ have been executed realistically using charcoal, a simple material, used very cleverly. Jokhio’s drawings have a sensual feel to them. He seems to be exploring the reality of the object and their ability to manipulate meaning and perception. Jokhio is known to use a variety of mediums and diverse subject matter. His work hinges on the explicit appropriation and incorporation of conflicting signs and symbols drawing into question patterns of perception and intention in their ambiguity.
Noor Ali Chagani’s installation “Wall, 2016” is a wall of bricks which has been constructed using miniature bricks with cement and acrylic paint. Chagani combines the practice of the high art of exquisite miniature traditions passed down from the royal Mughal and Persian courts, with the low art of ceramics and techniques of brickmaking craftsmen, which is also as old, if not older than the miniature painting style. The bricks seem symbolic of the idea that everyone in the world is on a quest to build a home or to find a shelter in the world from the dawn of man. His constant use of bricks also tends to demonstrate different interpretations of walls, from the atypical presumption of the wall as a sign of strength, but also silence the threat of violence or a sign exclusion or a barrier.
Sajjad Nawaz’s vivid charcoal diptychs titled “Across the sea I, II” depicting the sky in all it might and glory have been rendered beautifully. One really needs to step back to fully appreciate the exquisiteness of these exceptional drawings. Nawaz’s body of work has developed out of an exploration of shapes, textures and forms found in nature Nawaz is able to capture the essence of life in its full glory and simplicity, within his work.
On the other hand, Yasser Vayani’s four pieces of works using pen and ink mainly constitute text that make up shapes of found objects. His works subtly highlight the lost history of an object. The history of the object is unspoken but the visual attributes, or the wear and tear of the object often tells the truth. His works gives one a sense of time lost,and allows us to imagine the past of the objects and perhaps, the objects future as well.
Muzzumil Ruheel has three pieces in the exhibition. The triptych titled “‘The Night of the Storms” ’ have been painted on Wasli, and includes three pieces of varying sizes. The first is a shape which is almost organic looking in nature and is layered with the gold leaf and calligraphic text. The second is a man’s portrait with a thumbprint and covered with words and phrases. And the last piece illustrates an animal with calligraphic text. Ruheel tends to adapt images from media, culture and art history to create layered works within the precise rules of the calligraphic script. His work has a miniature like quality because of their extreme detailing along with his use of calligraphy and wasli paper.
The beauty of this show is that it is a reflection of the eight highly skilled artists, their different thought processes, and the different mediums used to express various ideas. There are some incredibly thought provoking pieces of work in the show, and all are technically very skilled. If there is a common thread that unites all the artists in the exhibition, apart from their country of origin, it is their willingness to use their work as a commentary on society, or politics around the world. Whether your interpretation of Chagani’s statement with “Wall, 2016” or the implicit statement by Mudassar in “The Holy Invitation” agrees with mine or not, the fact is that all the works make us sit back and question what we understand, both in this exhibition, and in the broader world outside this exhibition.