“Kids believe in Santa; adults believe in childhood.” ― Cate Kennedy
Life as an adult doesn’t hold much charm. Things become complicated- responsibilities and hardships increase killing the simple joys in life. In times like these one might reminiscence the “good ol’ days” when life held more appeal, when everything and everyone seemed magical, true and pure. One wishes for the time when they were young and blithe.
Perhaps, Noorjehan Bilgrami yearns for the same merry years of her life. She describes Deccan, Hyderabad as a place that bred culture and elegance, unsullied by any malice.
The autobiographical show Pathway to the Inner Sanctum by Noorjehan Bilgrami opened on the 26th of April, 2016 in form of a private opening. The gallery was full of people that were essentially “ooing” and “aahing” over the work. The viewers intently viewed the artwork as to not miss any bit of detail. They wanted to take in all that Bilgrami had to show.
Bilgrami seems to have a vivid memory of her past. Deccan becomes this almost unreal magical place as seen through the eyes of the child who grew up away from home, leaving behind the grace and allure of her former life. Images of people clad in extravagant apparel or the elegance with which dupattas are draped all reflect upon the era gone by.
The artist is not complaining about the present but holds the past very dearly. Her work is a way to capture the intangible emotions and sentiments attached to the things of the past. She romanticizes about a simpler era where everyone and everything was in harmony and at peace.
The work despite being autobiographical in nature does not feel impersonal. The viewer can connect with the past of the artist almost as if it was theirs. The objects all seem familiar. The smell of attar and sitting under the shade of trees are all familiar phenomenons, making the viewer feel as if they’ve personally witnessed these scenes.
One can almost feel the cool breeze that brushes past us while standing under these massive structures, the relief felt as we sit under the shade protected from the smoldering sun and the awe of witnessing the monumental Qutub Shahi Tomb.
Bilgrami’s recollections don’t miss anything out. She illustrates the walls of the grand infrastructures, the people and the landscape. The artist recognizes that one cannot be fully commemorated without the other, for what is a structure without the life that resides within it? Similarly, the structure or a roof is something all individuals primarily seek; it is what describes us and those that came before us.
The people captured in the artworks seem like characters from legends and folklore. One sees them as mythical creatures, so aptly dressed and so well put together when in fact they are ordinary individuals that once graced the land of Hyderabad. There is something so ethereal about them yet one can feel the authenticity of the places and the people.
The images are built up of layers of colour and imagery overlapping each other. The imagery is a mix of flashbacks as well as the present day almost reproducing time in layers.The image reveals something every time you lay eyes on it, each layer exposing itself at different times. When seen from a distant only the bigger elements on the paper catch the eye where as on closer inspection several small, obscure images disclose themselves. There were quite a few moments when the onlooker pointed out the slightly hidden portraits and said “Oh look at these!” in sheer excitement. Discovering each hidden image was almost taken as a victory. Thus, Bilgrami’s images tend to give you more every time you lay eyes on them- more of the artist and more of the life in Deccan to enjoy.
The images mostly layered over with colour seemed to have a stronger impact. Despite the fairly large imagery on the fore front it was these small pictures that pulled the viewer in. Perhaps it was the mystery or maybe people were curious as to why the artist chose to make them a part of the image yet conceal them slightly so they aren’t immediately visible. Molsri ke saaey taley XI , reveals a fairly large family portrait yet it is the smaller group of men at the right hand corner that invoke more excitement. The undersized images are very impactful. They don’t have to assert their importance; their presence is felt irrespective of their size.
The artist work is brilliantly executed where the aquatints are confused for photo transfers and digital prints. The detailed etchings result in exquisite prints. Noorjehan has not only employed the traditional technique of printmaking but has also worked some of the images with paint and graphite where needed, revealing there is no technique she can’t handle.
This collection gives tangibility to Bilgrami’s childhood memories. T he artist tells the viewer it is no longer just about childhood, it is about who you are.