New Works by Maryam Rahman Agha and Nida Bangash
Nida Bangash’s series of works, The Ultimate Guide for Healthier, Less Toxic Living, finds its reference in official posed portrait photographs and their significance as flag bearers in the declaration of our identity. Using these references, she paints faces that are stylized in such a way that they can only be called humanoid and not fully human. They are doll-like mannequins with triangular faces and near identical features. Particularly, their eyes are wide though blank and inexpressive, as if they wished to open a portal into themselves but there was nothing to see on the other side.
Some of these portraits are scarred with remains of a faintly legible signature while in others the pattern of the backdrop is invasively creeping onto the portrait. These details, along with the sarcastic titles of the pieces, lead us to believe that this series also intends to comment on structures of power, as a result of which identity is easily stupefied into mere documentation. The subjects of these paintings are offered no escape from loaded questions of nationality, gender, age and even religion. Therefore, they blatantly offer their ready responses but to what end, one is forced to wonder.
These portraits are installed inside a punched white backdrop that is evocative of ‘stamping’ mechanisms, both in the literal and metaphorical sense. This is accompanied by impersonal text that gives information about the subjects such as ”Habitat” and ”Specimen”. While this installation draws a demonstrated parallel to the passport and also draws attention to gender politics, it does take away attention from the painted portraits, which are more effective at making the same point less literally.
The next series, also by Nida, is titled Structure and Absence. These are gouache on mylar that are then embedded in transparent acrylic, thereby exhibiting both sides of the painted surface. These visuals draw attention to the apparatus of engagement. The subjects seem to be pointedly linked in the original visuals and this linkage is what is most often providing logical balance. An example of this would be the silhouette of a child resting on a large chair. However, in the final display, the two are extricated from each other and presented on opposite sides: freeing one from the other but not losing complete memory of previous contact, and therefore still retaining dependency. This series also seems to be a comment on social order and its maintenance through informal institutions such as the family.
Maryam Rahman Agha exhibits a series of Digital C-type prints called Difficult Conversations. Each of these is a digitally constructed image from two original photographs, the juxtaposition of which creates a play of proportions that is meant to alter the meaning of these visuals. The background is generated from macro photographs of domestic objects or the body, over which a foreground photograph of a protagonist is superimposed. These images are evocative of unexplored, almost alien, landscapes over which a single, slightly vulnerable character is setting foot. However, the apparent ease by which the background of these visuals gives away its original identity suggests that the protagonist isn’t very far removed from the background: it is easily discernable in the close up shots of the body in which another body finds sanctuary. Hence, this is expressive of the sentiment that the vast and the minute share a single consciousness that is subjectively experiencing itself. This sentiment is similar to the one expressed in William Blake’s “Auguries of Innocence”: “Tosee the world in a grain of sand/And a heaven in a flower.”
These visuals also are romantic in a way that explorer landscape tradition dictates. Particularly, the visual of coagulated water at the center of which stands a woman, is informed by German Romanticism with its silhouette of a valiant hero caught in a moment of self-aware sublimity. However, the surfaces of these prints were reflective and glossy, which barred a viewer from looking into the depths of the image. This was particularly disturbing for the darker areas.
Maryam’s other series of works, Sisters, was of digital C-type prints of ultrasound scans on canvas to which selective color was later added. Information about the age of these unborn children in weeks was also included in the titles of individual pieces. This series was composed of diptychs, and therefore the title Sisters was explanatory of both the content and the form. It was an interesting exercise to see the similarities and differences in the scans of two unborn children at the same age. Addition of selective colour was meant to enhance the vastness and other-worldly feel of these images. However, the wonder is intrinsic to images of any unborn life forms and doesn’t necessarily depend on artistic intervention.
‘New Works by Maryam Rahman Agha and Nida Bangash’ ran from 9 – 16 March 2013 at Drawing Room Gallery, Lahore.