Something wonderful is happening in the heart of Lahore. The NCA undergraduate thesis of 2019 is up for display – and there’s an emotional, spiritual and intellectual irreverence running through the studio turned gallery spaces of the college. Walking through the courtyard, into the high-ceilinged building and out of the chaos of the city, the college remains as safe a space for the ideas of this generation as it was for the previous and undoubtedly will continue to be for many to come.
An explosion of cardamom, painted in hues of greenish beige tones, it feels like the whole city of Lahore is reflected on the seeds. These are the colors that come to mind, when I think of Lahore. Beenish gives a zoomed-in presentation of the spice that is native to the Indian subcontinent and Indonesia. Dried chickpeas bounce off of one of the canvases and cinnamon sticks on another, together she forms a body of work that is relatable to not only the cold December of Lahore, but is also reminiscent, of a simpler time. A time when one of your grandmother’s recipes always involved one of these ingredients, and they were always going to cure all your problems.
Controlling line quality, and maintaining a uniform texture through drawing, Hira Asim explores the traditional genre of miniature art expanding on the first exercise of the miniature course. The work is laborious and the patience and ambition that is involved with completing these pieces is exemplary. For me, it begins to start a conversation around the critique of labor-intensive work. Whether this work implicates art making as labor and labor intensive work to be considered as ‘good art’. I believe her work successfully brings these questions into one’s mind, while also luring the viewer into the many seductive ways of of mark-making.
Home interior spaces remain a constant theme over the years of many NCA thesis’. I am fascinated with the fascination of these spaces, how it has been explored through different scales, textures, mediums and representations. Rida Adnan and Syeda Atika Fatima in the miniature department, Amna Nadeem in painting; all share the theme of household interiors, however their takes on it are unique to their experiences. Syeda Atika draws the viewer in with her paintings that cut through a section of architecture to reveal the strange activities that the characters are engaged in. A woman laying next to a pedestal fan, an old man bathing in a tiny pool, a shalwar kamiz clad woman descending a staircase, a nude androgynous figure holding a water hose – the narrative seems ambiguous, but holds an insurgency within the gestures of each character.
Hamida’s watery strokes on each piece is a refreshing take on the medium of Gouache and instantly remind me of the American abstract expressionist painter Helen Frankentheler. The washes, streaks and flecks of color that characterize much of her work are feminine and bodily and they form compositions in a very natural and organic way. I see a Salima Hashmi-esque aesthetic too, where the colors and space is used in a loose and energetic, yet thoughtful and organized way.
The painting department, lives up to its ever-lasting legacy displaying a range of experiments with color, medium, content and composition. Mariam Arshads paintings portray a sexual ambivalence creating an air of disquieting solemnity, generated by the subdued yet glowing palette. The work presents the fluidity of gender in a restrained setting of a conservative society; where these paintings become vignettes of freedom and self-determination. As you go further into the narrative, most characters faces’ are half-covered in shaving foam, pushing masculine or feminine attributes to the fore. The viewer has enough information to formulate a narrative yet the work beautifully gives room to breathe within the paintings. The skill, layering of the paint and attention to detail are executed in a particularly thought-provoking manner.
The different configurations of a shalwar by Nisa Syed is pinned up against a wall under a canopy-like structure made out of kamizes and shalwars deconstructed and then sewn back together. The work points out the androgynous
nature of the shalwar kurta – an outfit traditionally worn by both men and women. The undone stitches connote a sexual undertone with the pleats of the shalwar flared out, giving a sense of breaking free from tradition.
The Sculpture department took me by surprise- I had a very gendered, preconceived notion of the objects I saw. Turns out, all three bodies of work were made by women. Beautifully casted, pieces made out of kite paper were displayed by Shahnur Shahzad, some free standing, and some against the wall. The red stain of the paper instantly formed an association with violence or blood, and the thinness of the objects hinted towards the precariousness & fragility of the underlying concept. She had casted objects like an old vintage camera, a bicycle and chairs that immediately lost their structure as they were translated into this material.
Lubna Aslam casted metal bird claws gripping onto branches, detaching them from the rest of their bodies. The sculpture expresses a sense of freedom that does not tie itself to any culture, boundary or tradition yet it feels very rooted into the land it came from. Zahra Ishaq’s minimal linear format, nods to Carl Andre’s aesthetics of industrial design, camouflaging two different materials into one compartment. The viewer is drawn into the flattened space and the combination of materials, with a promising potential for further exploration.
It was refreshing to see a printmaking comeback; for many years, I’ve seen printmakers graduating with oil paintings as their final thesis’. This time, however, I noticed a thorough exploration of the techniques of linocut, aquatint, mezzotint, and etching throughout the department. An aquatint print of a sanding machine titled ‘Lollipop’, by Navid Majeed was not only gripping as a visual but also conceptually intriguing. As a female artist and writer, his body of work spoke to me about restricted access to wood, aluminum and steel workshops in Pakistan for women, due to the male dominance of these spaces.
In this profusely polyphonic exhibition, there is a beautiful display of artists realizing their voices, their ability to form constructive opinions, and a space to express them. As we navigate our way through global warming, an economic collapse and the resurgence of fascist regimes, we find ways to survive and hold on to this twinge of optimism seen in the halls of NCA.