Samina Mansuri constructs a startlingly tactile experience with the body of work on display in ‘Shell [skin]’. The artist, based in Canada, returned to Karachi with her first solo exhibit in nearly five years and created an intersection of surfaces, forms and materials, building upon digital technology with traditional sculptural methods.
The show offers a neatly divided display. Using her steel scrap installation and sculpted wood Shells, the artist offers a richly flavored conversation of unexplored spaces that fall between painted surfaces and sculpted three-dimensional forms.
In her installation, Samina Mansuri uses steel scrap to create an almost cartographic narrative, reminiscent of a metallic study on canvas. Hues that fall on a darkly detailed metallic spectrum mark the work that constitutes nearly half of the display. The meticulous detailing of the material turns the expression into a soft, earthly surface as a first impression. On closer inspection, however, the pieces are uncomfortably sharp. The scrap is molded to paint the surface with a zoomed-in version of what debris at a bomb site may look like, remnants of a breathtakingly steely shell that imploded into itself. The scrap is toned along the surfaces it covers. Each piece within the installation is chameleonic, forming vistas that are decipherable yet change shape and narrative with each look, an aerial view in one instance of a mapped-out terrain and, in another a miniature study in debris. Displayed first in 2012 in Toronto the steel scrap installation comes together marking a collective of carefully chartered and constructed landscape. The array is a delicate filigree through which a tougher surface peeks.
The other half of the display is Mansuri’s Shells. Synthetic polymer paint becomes a second skin, transforming the sculpted wood into an almost plastic surface, leading the show into a deeper conversation. What is encountered makes for a stark contrast and a skillfully confident transition into another medium of expression. Yet the artist maintains her signature layering of details with a myriad, vinyl hue of colors. Wood is cleanly dissected and painted with a glossy veneer, restructured into forms that open up. Each piece starts off with an outsider’s view and then the layers unfold, leading inside the form. Through painted surfaces a sculpted terrain emerges that offers an insight into the mechanics of its working. The pieces are reminiscent of an alien wind-up toy in most instances, industrial contraptions in a few and distinctly feminine in some.
According to the artist’s statement, each piece is constructed based on her digital drawings and conversations with herself and employs sculptural methods that are traditional yet border on an architectural precision. The malleability with which she transforms material into both painted surfaces strung up on the wall almost strips the sculptures of its third dimension. Almost but not quite, however, as you are drawn into a futuristic landscape in several instances, narratives exposed to their fundamental mechanisms. Bodies adapt and reshape themselves, fit into each other and then come apart.
The drastic change in surfaces in the span of one exhibit is bold, the pairing of materials is odd and yet the success with which the show holds together is testimonial to the skill of the artist. She is both confident and delicate with the works on display, each piece unfolding layers as an entity independent of the rest, yet linked by the comfort with which the artist collects and presents Shell [skin].
‘Shell [skin]’ was on view at Koel Gallery, Karachi, from 2-27 December. Images courtesy the artist and Koel Gallery.