To radiate in several directions, to de-mystify the sacred, and to engage portals of thought in tangible form, is directly related to the accuracy an
To radiate in several directions, to de-mystify the sacred, and to engage portals of thought in tangible form, is directly related to the accuracy and beauty of aesthetics it manifests, at least in traditional schools of thought. Alyssa Sakina Mumtaz seeks these spatio-temporal arenas with an outsider’s eye. Indeed, her second solo currently aptly titled ‘The Center is Everywhere’, on display at Koel Gallery, accesses the inward gaze through the lens of the enigmatic All-Seeing, All-Present. In whichever way one chooses to be, there is a be(coming), a fertile ground of chthonic primordial variety, disengaged from categorisation or labels which precedes the luminous piercing arrow of rational, directed thought. In wielding familiar tools and mediums in unfamiliar combinations, Mumtaz not only seeks to bridge the gap between this Dionysian-Apollonian chasm of duality, but seeks to extricate craft from its historical pariah position as utilitarian, divorced from its sophisticated sibling, the Fine Arts.
What the viewer sees, is the salt of the earth married to a sense of spiritual refinement that precedes the aesthetic. This is reflected in the materiality of each ‘crafted’ object Mumtaz meticulously creates. The magnetic symbolism of each element used in striking tapestry-like works such as ‘Safina’ (Coloured Pencil on Handmade Indigo Wasli Paper, 28 x 12.5 Inches, 2021) and the diptych ‘I Have Been a Portal Twice: Hadi/Jahanara’ (Coloured Pencil on Handmade Indigo Wasli Paper, 22 x 15 Inches, Diptych), are synergistically representative of the sacred geometries of many belief systems, and in their arched forms mimic the stained glass of devotional parable: specifically, the abstract condensation of an indescribable experience such as childbirth, into spiritual communion with a higher power.
Indigo is the colour of the Third Eye Chakra, the portal to engagement with Spirit, here transferred to the seat of power that is Motherhood.
‘Portal’ (Coloured Pencil, Opaque Watercolour and Collage on Handmade Cotton Rag Paper, 52 x 32 Inches, 2021), comprising orderly entanglements of triangular formation, hypnotises with a meditative ponderousness akin to the mental gymnastics of navigating a labyrinth. There is a universality of pattern and form transgressing cultures, which Mumtaz capably transmits, perhaps as an outsider looking in, but also through an admirable dedication to leading a devotedly contemplative life, often with minimal distraction from preconceived notions of Islamic materiality.
Paradoxically, she references traditional Islamic culture as inspirational, citing “…embroidered robes, talismanic garments, prayer rugs and miniature paintings”, as points of departure, as well as devotional imagery from American utopian communities. As evident in ‘Loom (Narrow Gate) (Pencil on Handmade Wasli Paper, 21 x 15 Inches, 2016-17’, and the beautifully diaphanous ‘Flooded Ghat’ (Paper Appliqué on Handloom Silk, 50 x 102 Inches, 2018-22) ‘ Mumtaz is simultaneously drawn to the sensuality of textile intervention as an expression of an industrious pragmatism that is quite an American hallmark. The pared down symmetry, neutral palette, and return to simpler formalism contrast with the complexity of symbolic tone, where line and shape radically transform the ordinary loom into an architectural site of sacred communion; warp and weft becoming the archetypal binary of masculine and feminine, dark and light, ad infinitum.
Graceful, quiet, and understated, Mumtaz’s forms seem to exist in an alternate timeline, divorced from the harsh global, social and political climate of today. They speak to an insular realm of philosophical mysticism which only a privileged few have the license, time, or indeed, the attention-spans or wisdom to pursue, yet for these Seekers of Source, an endlessly yielding directive awaits. Mumtaz’s clarity of presentation and work ethic may also serve as a lesson in the currency of skill and time, for young visual artists emerging on the backs of post-Conceptualist culture’s penchant for a remove from object-making in favour of visual think-pieces. Each ponderous stroke of a ballpoint pen tattooed onto cowhide, as in ‘All-Seeing’ (Ballpoint pen and Leather Dye on Cowhide, 65 x 43 Inches, 2012-22), captures a momentous direction of creative energy that is the draughtsman’s forte, the craftsperson’s passion, or the labourer’s sweat, blood and tears. This is the bricks-and-mortar art of yesteryear, given a new lease of life with its endearingly minimal imagery. One hopes Mumtaz’s direction allows her to further engage with vernacular visual language, experimenting on a larger scale and with greater abandon, for there is much scope for spiritual and material evolution in the grey area between points of origin and points of departure.