Enclosed indian ink and watercolour on paper 43 x 29 inches Dynamic Featured Image

Phantom Architecure

Phantom Architecture

“The modern city is simultaneously an imagined entity, however, as indeed all cities are. Here, questions of culture and geography become more relevant..the modern city is a place of both danger and promise, of both unprecedented human depravity and the highest of cultural attainments “ [1]

 

William J. Glover, Making Lahore Modern

 

Utopian movements and the material culture that they generate, can date appallingly fast, but the accoutrements of the Age of Aquarius are particularly fascinating and poignant for millennial adults because their wired lives have accelerated far beyond from what it was dreamed of a few decades ago.

 

Amal Uppal’s work in her solo exhibition “Dilapidate”, draws heavily from different timelines- exploring this gap between then and now; a gap that is comparatively small chronologically but in every other aspect, so colossal. The city, specifically Lahore, is the artists melting pot from which she draws her energy and like an archeologist she finds and examines key cultural aspects of her childhood in this city and contrasts them to the present cityscape, one that many would deem is rife with incognizant planning. Her visual vocabulary in turn, reminds (and warns) the audience of the very real possibility of a dangerously dystopian future.

 

While the revision of the past to conjure the future may be central to the artist’s new work, her thought process and execution of the drawings to build a narrative, distinguishes her inkscapes from being mere sci-fi visions. The pieces interestingly resemble old, manually executed architectural drawings, through the use of materials like ink and watercolour and borrow from historical subjects. However, her juxtaposition of these traditional materials and references (some from memory, some from imagination) with the relatively ‘modern’ imagery of game art and design, introduces an incongruity that emphasizes how the destruction of artefacts and monuments, under the guise of ‘development’, can be fabricated to manipulate memory, systematically turning a familiar past into an alien future . Amal’s assemblages of graphically rendered constructions, expose the tragedy of ancient places and ideas, that predict a world in perpetual progress- a place where, to some people, new would always mean better.

 

Her visual vocabulary is overtly architectural, yet fictional. All the structures in her pieces are quite obviously unlivable and are suggestive of ant colony inspired human habitations. In Sher, a rendition of the famous Walled City of Lahore, she depicts a narrow pathway with a tumultuous pile-up of buildings on either side- it is difficult to predict where one house begins and another ends, which perhaps signifies the burgeoning population growth, resulting in the constant sharing of finite resources and the hopeless situation of the city forced to accommodate its excessive inhabitants.

 

Thought I Saw a Tree and Mile Markers address the alarming and detrimental rates of deforestation, which have escalated in recent times. The lone tree in ‘Mile Markers’ represents the Banyan tree with its brick ‘pyol’ , which was an old form of a road marker. Thought I Saw a Tree features a towering facade of a fictive construction. The dramatic play of perspective emphasizes the overwhelming nature of multi-storied apartment buildings and vast housing societies, hinting towards the various unchecked constructions that often exist at the expense of the eco-system.

 

Amal drew her inspiration for Enclosed from the origins of DHA, Lahore, which has an interesting back-story. She explains how the remains of a previous settlement were erased to facilitate the construction of the Community Club “..According to the Land Settlement Record collected by the British in the middle of the 19th century, the village of Charrar was first established by a man called Basi in the 14th century. It was named Charrar because Basi originally belonged to a village called Charrar in the district of Ferozpur. There were archeological mounds of the village which were flattened to make way for the Community Club..” The drawing features a tight web-like arrangement of structures with impenetrable walls and slivers of windows, quite reminiscent of a prison.

 

In Stop! Traffic Cone the reoccurring imagery of construction is condensed into a conical shape, referencing the mundane traffic cone, which she explains, “has featured so many times in my immediate and peripheral vision..casually warning me to watch out for fatal potholes.” The drawing is a reminder of how private and public realms of experience can diverge and overlap in one’s work. Sometimes personal dilemmas can become metaphors for larger issues and political and social problems can acquire personal vibrations.

 

A similar issue for Uppal, which treads the line between personal and public experience, is the memory of the elephant Suzi, who was a staple in the Lahore Zoo for many years until her death in 2017. Ode to Suzi depicts the elephant as a crumbling monument of sorts- which is an apt portrayal for any unfortunate wild animal that has been forced into captivity, and is subject to the callous treatment that is often meted out to them in zoos. Suzi herself could be an unfortunate symbol of how human amusement often presides over basic humanity.

 

By painting urban worlds in a dilapidated state, Amal observes perhaps, that we are lost amid the dizzying display of the shifting landscape and the new ideals they present in our present situation of flux. Many have come to terms with this constant haphazard overhaul of the city and revel in its new cosmetic changes, yet many remain wary of the change. Italo Calvino, in his book Invisible Cities describes this divide beautifully;

 

“That said, it is pointless trying to decide whether Zenobia is to be classified among happy cities or among the unhappy, it makes no sense to divide cities into these two species, but rather into another two: those that through the years and the changes continue to give their form to desires, and those in which desires either erase the city or are erased by it” [2]

 

The show “Dilapidate” by Amal Uppal continues till 25th September at Taseer Art Gallery.

 

 

 

 

[1] William Glover, Making Lahore Modern, page xiv

[2] Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities, page 31

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