Objects We Behold

To curate was to be able to take ongoing conversations forward and to locate a wide range of journeys. Reading into work as opposed to showcasing it.

What developed was a beautiful engagement by each artist into his or her concerns, articulated in unexpected form.  Adeela Suleman, Affan Bhagpati, Marium Agha, Ruby Chishti and Tazeen Qayyum seemed to have seen or read “body” much beyond its physicality.  The realization of “beholding”, being besotted.  The object, a window to something else. And a world into itself.

Meandering through narratives, the constant between imagery, found object and the processes of re-constructing, building by altering the ‘field’, the unevenness of scale, interventions that defy “production” because they mediate on their own terms. Both personal and political.

These works can temporarily be understood in relation to the architectural and physical depth of the space at AAN Gandhara Art Space, Karachi. The relationship of work to the geometrics of this space is very much a concern of balance. What are we able to see or that we wish to see in a larger meaning of the word. Of vision. And to navigate the balance within it. Punctuations of the work in a space, in adding new meaning.


Adeel Suleman’s “monument” like chandelier comprises of more than a hundred swords; referencing her ongoing critique on the nature of violence in our times. In their dis-functionality as weapons, they “become” weeping willows (hence the garden), a place of memory of people killed, and a representation of the number that keeps increasing. These shiny bodies as emblems of masculinity, the politics of power, exploitation. Loss. The object personifies a space of commemoration and critique.

The work evolves from past concerns and references the Mubazirun who formed a special unit of the Rashidun army. (’No More Mubarizun’, 2014)

The journey of these processes: works that have been transported, been plugged away from the privacy of the studios.  Ruby Chishti working in her studio in Brooklyn, sewing while on subway when she would go to buy materials from the 34th street Garment district. This picture taken of her in the train on the Williamsburg bridge, from Brooklyn to Manhattan.

Histories and journeys that do not progress in a linear manner: the material that goes into the making of the larger than life coat, takes form in a manner of negotiating with past, present and memory. Of longing. Of the perishable. And yet it remains an object before us: to behold from afar. Out of reach but within vision and consciousness. The coat as an object of contemplation. Many objects, such as a ‘a hidden little tricycle inside the coat and covered in moss…. that tricycle I still behold’ (Ruby). This work emerges after an installation of a landscape made with yarn, found clothing from neighborhoods in Brooklyn, with miniature windows. Objects that testify to the artist’s experiences, of community and transient states of mind. (‘We leave, we never leave, we return endlessly’, 2015 and its related work shown in Karachi 2017)

The current work consolidates memory that is also a part of the present, a recall that seeks refuge. The larger than life coat, open in its embrace, is a conversation which opens itself to vulnerability and longing. It is an acknowledgment of these feelings carried with oneself, that find a home. Although it is seen as distant, unreachable, the many worlds (memories, associations) within its crevices, it is also an architectural form open, receptive and listening to the outside.

A landscape, as are Tazeen Qayyum’s rubber hot water bottles, or Marium Agha’s found tapestries from the Sunday market and bought from Afghani suppliers. These meet at the intersection of pleasure, pain, loss, desire, comfort. Bodies. The stories of the 26 women around their bottles, re-addressed by Tazeen after a hiatus of many years (after 2010-11). What is the progression of lived experience of the time in between?  Where is the artist’s location as she navigates these and adds bottles and stories at this time? The personal stories, which in turn carry narratives of vulnerability, pain, fear, broken relationships, cherished bonds. As a body in the center of it, its curator, the artist takes owner ship of form, pace and accessibility of the personal and social.  Text, the painted image, found object, and her location being inside the work as a participant, engaging communities, bridging the distances of time and geographic location, translating, documenting; the object and bodies, inter-changeable. The accompanying stories are dossiers to communication based on sharing and trust.

Re-visiting a work is also visiting and re aligning to concerns that co exist, develop and accumulate as we age. Lives and material both. That which has been part of someone’s life, the bottle, the coat, the tricycle, the lotaa, the chair, the knife, the tapestry or an aged page describing a still life by Cezanne or Van Gogh.

Marium’s imagery recedes into the picture plane, negotiating with a given reality reinforced by colonial “baggage”, of imagined vistas that reside elsewhere, idyllic meanderings into romantic scenarios by water lilies and foliage. These objects of fetish, the imagined stories of unknown people, woven apart and sewn a new.

A salon setting such as Affan Bhagpati’s found surmaedanis and lotaas (pun not intended), framed within ornate frames as objects that speak of awkward connections to histories of subcontinental aesthetics; ‘dysfunctionality of objects used for sitting/ post-colonial hybridity’ (Affan). Displacement. Overlapping with a timelessness of craftsmanship. The artist inverts, redirects, taking himself to a place of unease, awaiting something not known. Chairs that cannot seat people but hinder. What are the notions of beauty?

In Marium, one can see wolf faces and meat flowing in the waters and floating in the sky (transformed from images of hearts and embroidered onto the tapestry).  There is an element of violence as she cuts out pieces of the tapestry to re-imagine the landscape according to the lived reality of her time. The taboo, the hypocrisy, the truth.

Tazeen’s once upon a time ice therapy bags, “Thee only do I love’, mushrooming from the ground, like dysfunctional penises, ‘decorated’ with intricate, organic, pleasure seeking motif of her adjacent ‘garden’ of (water/bottle) bodies. This also connects to her previous interventions on chairs at the departure lounge at Pearson airport, Toronto. Recurring motif. Where is this landscape located? Revisiting an older work in a new context and finding new meanings.

Or pathways that take us to the inner child, the artist’s (Ruby Chishti) and our own. For this is a meeting point, of what we bring into our reading of it. The layers of texture in the two felt coats by Ruby, one a closed coat hung amid scaffolding, signifying a distance and longing, made in 2010-18.  The open coat, a landscape not only of the mind but also a reference to the histories of people and places from where these found objects have been transported into this collective. A figment of experiences relived, revived. The very private exposed, vulnerable like a wound compels us to see and to behold.

The notion of scale is a thread running through the works in this show as well as in their connection to each other and most importantly, the gallery space. How do we view Affan’s miniature sized takht with Chandni to Adeela Suleman’s chandelier made of found shiny (and sharp) knives and Ruby’s larger than life coat? How far does the imagery in Marium’s tapestry allow us to recede into the landscape and into the historical and cultural? How do we view these small beaded representations of still life by Cezanne and Van Gogh? Where do we stand in our association with their imagery and what is the nature of representation and perception of it? How do we read Affan’s bizarre gold-fish pond and water feature amidst a dated telephone bench?  The artist, as a present- day metal worker, skillfully crafts degchis into breasts and surmaidaanis into soap dishes and, that become his muse, an object a body of beauty and finesse. Like Marium who rips apart the prescribed form, Affan injects meanings that relate to his reality, time and place.

Finally, this tactile orchestra of materiality reads beyond its physicality. That moment rests with the audience. And the work is read and re-read. Perceptions change as do contexts of the social, historical and political.

The non-linearity of movement of this current body of work, which was by no means prescribed to the invited artists at any stage, is another sub-text. These works, exhibited in the quietness of a minimalist approach to space, have travelled across many lateral directions. From the flea markets of Brooklyn, Karachi, and other cities, to the homes of friends and families, the workshops, studios and factories, anonymous people are collaborators in the making of these narratives. The directional ethos weaves into and out of the public and private, through journeys of time, before the objects are assembled here

Interestingly, the gallery has been structured into a town house setting and so the hallways that may have been rooms once, carry a social context that determines this engagement. The nature of space (indoor /outdoor, gallery/non-gallery) is one of the most compelling indicators of the reading of art in our ‘contemporary’ context.

The interface with “otherness” and blurring of hierarchies, alters perception through critique.  At this point, the critic/curator turns to the artists and seeks this interchangeability, locating and acknowledging the discursive in a re-reading of both. What are we seeing and what are we reading? This subtext, because of this process, addresses mechanisms of appropriated/ regurgitated structures in curating and reading of art. If anything, the curatorial seeks anonymity, seeking to deconstruct. Text is not theory, and ideas can be “read”.

The object as a site of refuge.

Objects We Behold

Amra Ali

October 4, 2018, Karachi

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