In the twentieth-century American poetess Muriel Rukeyser’s view, “the universe is made up of stories, not atoms.” The story of these stories starts with a child’s bedtime simple narratives and expands into multiple plots featuring complex characters with time and age. Stories have the power to turn history into myth and personal experiences into legends. They engage with untold truths and imaginative realms weaving them into a tapestry carrying a few threads of each listener’s life.
Where writers depend on pen and ink to breathe life into stories, artists rely on colors and canvases. A recent exhibition held at the Paintbucket Gallery curated by Anam Lasharie, titled ‘Tall Tales to Tell’ featured some stories created by a group of young Pakistani artists. As a breath of fresh air, instead of what the art historian Brian O’Doherty calls ‘inside a white cube,’ Anam chose an outdoor open space to display these art works. Here each canvas told its tale to the viewer with an unlimited space overhead inviting an equally open and uninhibited interpretation.
Each one of these six artists had a unique story to tell through a different medium providing an extraordinary experience to the viewers as the sensory feat murmured auditory notes to sensitive eyes. Fariha Taj, an Indus Valley graduate, shared her cosmopolitan Karachi experience with the Lahore audience. Combining the city she lives in with the city that lives in her mind, her canvases carried a variety of impressions. Her work Escaping Trough features a net of roads and electric wires in the foreground, crossing each other as if challenging the other’s authority. The hot air balloons in the background slowing rising in the air seem to defy the battle of wires and roads engaged in their own combat against gravity.
Maryam Hanif’s oeuvre revolved around the concept of “Spirit”. In Togetherness she celebrates nature through pet animals. A sensitively rendered black cat reclines on an unconventional couch-like surface that branches out like a winter tree that has shed all its leaves. The tree’s loss of leaves, interestingly, is compensated by a vibrant bird perched on its branch. Hanif’s expert choice of contrasting colors and equally divergent concepts is not the only feature of her work that captures attention. It is also the dexterity of her brush strokes and the rendition of hypnotic and rhythmic patterns that mesmerize the onlooker. Another canvas is titled Once Upon a Time, where the pets hiding behind layers of dark yet vibrant forest. Here the images of soft cuddly animals invite close proximity but their glaring eyes convey signals of both acceptance and rejection. The challenging themes rendered with feather-like strokes lend a surreal quality to her work and brings to mind the famous Surrealist object Fur-Covered Cup, saucer and spoon (1936) by Meret Oppenheim.
Artists have a deep connection with their surroundings; they keep on exploring and then nurturing new dimensions of life. Mehreen Fatima is one such visual artist who uses mixed media to explore the physical and non-physical space of her surroundings. She creates her artworks by scraping and painting multiple layers of papers in a quest to understand the interconnectedness of man with his space even after he is long gone. This Side or the Other represents a rundown dilapidated space but this gloom and despair is quelled by a window on one side. The polarity between abandoned spaces and a hopeful window offer avenues of hope like a ray of light at the other side of a tunnel. Fatima’s work offers the much needed promise of a better tomorrow in the present crisis each part of the globe is unfortunately facing.
If Fatima’s paintings tell the tales of physical and non-physical space, Hoor Ahmed, Fatima Batool and Hasnain Awais explore in one way or another, through different mediums, ideas of human nature and mind based on their own experiences. Hoor in a surrealist atmosphere explores the how ‘a genesis of disease changes connotations between relationships.’ Ahmed uses gouache and gold leaf on wasli (sheets of paper glued together used for miniature paintings) as her artistic medium, which perfectly corresponds with the complexity of her theme. Her subjects are mature and at the same time complicated. Human relationships are the most misinterpreted and misjudged aspects of life, which Ahmed portrays through the colorful depiction of human faces. Her faces carry and emotions aesthetically wrapped in biological cells as symbols. Changing Connotations, Within You and Me and Malignant Water depict faces that connote relationships at a variety of levels that each one of us is surrounded by. “Tall Tales to Tell” thus offers us stories woven with emotions and experiences we can all empathize with, where some sections are embellished with our joys and others tattered and torn due to our own offences.
“Tall Tales to Tell’ opened at Paintbucket Gallery, Lahore, on 31 October 2015.
Amina Ejaz is an Art History graduate from the University of Edinburgh and has recently started working as a lecturer at NCA.