“You know that place between sleep and awake, the place where you can still remember dreaming? That’s where I’ll always love you. That’s where I’ll be waiting.”
– J. M Barrie, Peter Pan
Rohtas Gallery recently featured works by Zahrah Ehsan and Rajab Ali Sayed in “New Romantic”, an exhibit exploring a new approach towards ideal notions in life in the 21st century. Fariba Thomson, art patron and wife of British High commissioner, was invited to inaugurate the show, in which the artists expressed their romantic ideologies.
Both Rajab and Zahrah’s works are dictated by their personal experiences in life and their perceptions as shaped by their ideal romantic philosophy. Zahrah and Rajab, introducing themselves as young romanticists with their fantasies expressed, are being challenged by the waters of Islamabad art market; in art years, theyoung apprehensive children who are on the verge of embracing adulthood. The constant internal struggle is manifested in their work.
Rajab’s figurative paintings were imbued with symbolic religious undertones, quite an achievement for the young artist. He incorporated the divine and the worldly together. In the diptych The Night Before/Morning After, Rajab projects a scene from contemporary party life and overlays it with religious concepts. When questioned about this contrast he says that he is on the path to establishing ideas on religion and discovering himself through his experiences in life. According to Rajab his quest for something divine is always there. He talks about the moment as it is happening and expresses the emotions captured in that once lived moment; he paints indulgence and letting go of experiences in life.
One of his painting series, Neon Neverland, is a romantic representation of a lifestyle based on indulgence. These six small paintings were structured on a diverse neon color palette primarily dominated by shades of ultramarine which represented the nightlife. Rajab’s style of painting is deeply influenced by David Hockney, in terms of application of bold and thick paint; painting from photographs and treatment of paint in acrylics and oil is similar in both their works as well. The great American abstract expressionist Edward Hopper has also molded Rajab’s work in certain ways. Hopper’s way of perceiving the nightlife of America in the 1940s and his loud but muted paintings of cages and movie theatres has a role to play in neon never land. Rajab’s sensational work focuses on creating a silence which is visible but not audible, mirroring that distinctive feature of Hopper’s work.
Zahrah’s work deals with the societal pressures young women undergo in their development. Welcome to Pink is a massive painting reflecting the inferno within a young woman, concealed under a compelling exterior. “My work symbolizes the kind of perfection that a woman is expected to achieve, with utmost precise and deliberation; my cake is woman, any woman, longing for appreciation and validation and demanding the attention that she deserves for successfully constructing an immaculate exterior. The cakes are positioned to ask for approval. This idea of perfection evolved into perfect cakes that I baked with beautifully elaborate icing—the kind that could mask the truly that lay inside the cake. The façade of sugary happiness was, in fact a superficial idea, a truth which on the inside was a lie. Not knowing how to bake a ‘presentable’ cake would have been just as if I didn’t know how to present my own self to the world. I could only prove myself worthy and justify my existence through the flawless cake. The cake gave me what I had been waiting for all along… happiness.”
Zahra’s sensitive nature is evident in her work; her use of the palette and manner of paint application is quite delicate. She reminds me of Wendy, the character from Peter Pan, who is stuck between the perfectionist, idealistic person that she is expected to be and the fantasy realm where she is a carefree child with wild dreams. Fariba Thompson concluded that the work was more Baroque than new Romantic and she insisted that the artists should travel more.
‘New Romantic’ ran at Rohtas Gallery, Islamabad, from 28 February – 7 March, 2013.