Not much is astir at 11 a.m inside thesis studios at the National College of Arts. Don’t be fooled though because nesting sites as clearly marked by the sleeping bags immediately reassure me that this batch, like most others, is composed of nocturnal workers.
In the sculpture studio, a massive trapezoid structure occupies most of the space and barely having made out its outline in the darkness, I am about to retreat only to be stopped short by a buzz within. Sidra Ashraf sits cramped at the innermost corner with only a few inches to spare over her head. I attempt to climb up to her but claustrophobia and spray paint fumes kick in and I flop down, a few feet from her. It’s not meant to be climbed into, Ashraf explains slightly amused. She is installing lights on the ceiling of this structure, the movement of which will be reflected upon the ramp like floor. Ashraf is isolating visions that would otherwise go unnoticed in the ruckus of the mundane and by magnifying them in a gallery space she hopes to offer a hypnotizing experience for the viewer who spares attention. This one under construction is meant to look like a receding road with trailing streaks of light.
One of the entrances of the other sculpture studio is blocked, ironically, by a door slightly ajar. I’m told that this immovable brick door, offering a mirage of access, is Safder Ali’s work. He also casts brick walls in shaky soft latex, this time drawing a contrast between the appearance of strength and protection, and the tactile feeling of easy malleability and in consequence , fallibility.
Despite the clutter in the painting studios, individual spaces are neatly demarcated. In one corner, Kirin works with charcoal on hanging roles of paper. While association with Christian imagery is obvious at first glance, Kirin Chaudhari’s palimpsest drawings of plump babies becomes so populated as images that the process of drawing becomes fore mostly significant where a mark and an erasure hold similar importance. This also slightly shifts her work away from one noteworthy character of the child Jesus and its implications to a horde of healthy infants, the individual identity of whom is unimportant.
Sabah Zahid is painting scenes cast in dramatic light but soft and fuzzy edges. She takes references from found film stills and alters them with additions and subtractions during the process of paint. The work I was able to see had a saturated yellow palette for skin which while exuding heat was situated in an overall scene of rather somber silent quality. The distracted and somewhat startled gaze of her character also made the viewer subconsciously aware of another unseen person in the narrative that isn’t painted on the canvas.
In the printmaking studio, Amna Kazmi is drawing in layers using mixed media on varying surfaces. While the bases of these works are high contrast charcoal and ink drawings of what seems to be vacillating subject matter, Kazmi is now layering these with bits of recognizable but not fully legible text as well as fragments of other images. Kazmi explains that she is trying to examine the relationship between words and images: the link is inextricable but the gap is insurmountable. One hopes that the resultant works do not fall into the trap of a perfunctory statement on so a profound a philosophical debate.
Ramish Rana leads me behind a dark curtain where lies a sculptural piece made of shattered glass. Rana’s incipient ideas of installation in a dark room with a source of focused light and the consequent creation of larger shadows upon a wall immediately remind me of a cinema hall and film slides. Her static image however only flickers ever so lightly with the glimmer of glass and the unsteady light. Moreover, while Rana explains that she wants this form to look like something that is maintaining balance and falling apart simultaneously, the time at which I saw it, the structure had a visible blocky appearance reminiscent of a skyscraper skyline.
In the miniature studio mezzanine, Momima Muhammad sits serenely alone and paints a cow skull. She is so seriously involved that I cannot help stifling a good natured giggle. Muhammad explains that she is manipulating the appearance of things using distance as a variable. So, from afar you might see a skull but upon closer examination you would notice the intricate vibrant foliage painted upon it. She also informs me that she is planning an installation where a patch of floor would be covered with painted horns in such a way that it will resemble a carpet of grass.
Faryal Ahsan is recreating compositions of traditional miniatures and appropriating these in what she calls a ‘contemporary narrative’. This seems like an exciting possibility since traditionally, dastaan has held immense value in its retelling. We know what is to happen and we are hooked to satisfy this very expectation.
Not many other students from miniature were around and given the scale of their works, they were not always on display. Hence, one must surely visit the exhibition to fully satisfy curiosity.
Degree shows are always exciting not only because rarely does one ever see so many artists showing under the same roof but also because somewhat unhindered yet by commercial concerns, these young artists have had an intensive incubatory period of at least a year to churn out a sincere and well articulated comment. Just a couple of weeks before the show, the energy in the studios is contagious but fear also lurks close behind. More than a few of the students refer almost compulsively to an unnamed ‘them’. ‘They’ might not be as aware of it but ‘they said’ is a very popular phrase in use by every other batch during thesis. Burden of proof and not just exploration weighs down heavily upon students and one wonders just how fully can a person truly discover their core concerns and locate themselves around so many ideas within the span of an academic year. I’m duly impressed that many students manage to do so year after year.