The noun described as ‘entity, nature’, while the verb described as ‘present participle of be’, this two-person show by Maheerah Ali and Usman Malik uses the title ‘Being’, aptly describing each artist’s own take on human presence, subconscious, reality and thinking. Both artists graduated from National College of Arts (Rawalpindi) and majored in painting. The show opened at the VM Art Gallery in Karachi on June 15th, 2019.
Maheerah Ali’s paintings primarily used pointer, ink and acrylic on paper. Her paintings carry an illustrative aesthetic, incorporating black and white drawings with splashes of colour. Often utilizing geometric shapes and patterns, she creates a comic-styled 2-dimensional realm of lines, dots and contours. With images of ladders reaching up to the sky and houses built on top of high trees, Ali’s work carries a sense of childlike playfulness. Ali describes it as ‘A visual dream world, where every observer has the right to construct his own reality’. Her work allows constant movement of the eye, creating intricate details that almost force the viewer into looking at her work longer. Her creations look both futuristic and fairytale-like at the same time, creating a Miyazaki-esque landscape. Though there are almost no figures or characters present in her work, we are left to believe in their existence with the imagery of small housing colonies created on top of floating platforms, using hot air balloons and cable cars as a means of transport. Ali also creates paintings made to resemble blueprints, analysing exact measurements and mechanisms of her imagined inventions, like the ‘Atmotram’ and the ‘Bimpski’. She also incorporates notes in neat, cursive handwriting, describing the details of a makeshift house and its furnishings.
Ali’s playful imagery is reversed in artist Usman Malik’s work. His paintings create a contrast from Ali’s childlike whimsy to a mood of more sullen seriousness. Working mostly on translucent looking tracing paper, Malik’s organic shapes appear ambiguous upon first glance, while displaying a sense of visual familiarity at the same time. He describes his work as having ‘its source drawn from nature and the subconscious, familiar and unfamiliar’. Resembling a cluster of cells and molecules, the human body seems instantly recognisable with its curved contours and uneven surfaces, despite using abstract-looking shapes. Malik captures both the softness and roughness of male skin, merging the look of human flesh with coarse, black body hair. Though his human figures are made to appear abstract and lack a concrete shape, the image of a man’s chest down to his naval is prominent, highlighting the trail of finely drawn hair to an almost realistic render. Malik’s colour palette strikes the most intrigue, as he uses ballpoint and acrylic on tracing paper to construct the fluid translucency of human skin. Even though the human shapes and figures appear to be nude and bear already, the translucency that Malik manages to create gives the illusion of peering through even further, allowing the viewer to get inside the figure’s flesh and skin, down to its tiniest cells and molecules. He also creates the illusion of an actual cluster of cells using separated pieces of organic-shaped tracing paper, joining them together on the wall, layering them on top of each other to highlight his translucent aesthetic. His imagery allows the human figure to be seen in its most vulnerable, intimate state, highlighting its imperfections and flaws in a way that feels recognisable and almost comfortable.
Both painters’ works carry their own distinctive aesthetic and mood, each being at the polar opposite end of the other. Dreamlike in their own way, it is this juxtaposition of both painters’ works that creates the contrast in the exhibit, allowing a space for both childlike fantasy and raw, human vulnerability to be witnessed in their own place.