The lifestyles to which we are accustomed do not prepare us for the natural disintegration and changes of communication which time brings. Whether it is the multifaceted nature of technology which permeates through any field of development or the gradual fading away of ‘trends’, the artist retains the role of the preserver by reflecting and producing work based on these undulating changes in society. Ghulam Mohammad’s exhibition, ‘KutubKhana’, resonates with the painstaking task of preservation and containment. The small gallery space at Sanat embraces and compliments Ghulam Mohammad’s pieces which entice the viewer to spend ample time in front of them. Using script, the artist delves into the questionable position language has in our world as it paradoxically enables communication but establishes barriers as well.
‘KutubKhana’’s most eminent feature is dexterity of the texts pasted ever so delicately on wasli, which curls up at the corners, breathing a three-dimensional texture into the paintings. Unbelievably so, Ghulam Mohammad cuts the little bits of script –none thicker than a hangnail – manually with a cutter and lifts them onto his surface with a miniature brush. The words are independent of their context and the artist uses text from old books which are of no use to anyone. These hidden and disintegrated books are revitalized and assimilated into a visual language rather than a printed literary form. The artist makes a poignant attempt to recreate the difficulties he has faced in adapting to new languages and environments. In one particular piece, Mohammad recreates an aerial view map of his village, Kaachi, with calligraphic phrases and words symbolizing the transience of languages he has had to deal with. The languages vary from Urdu, Sindhi, Punjabi and Balochi and the literature presents an additional dimension to the strenuous adaptations humans have to face with in terms of written history, contemporary theories and creative poetry. It is very interesting to see the artist use a very real struggle from his own life and translate it visually into such a great strength. Although the words are not meant to be deciphered and read by viewers, Ghulam Mohammad admits to using particular texts and builds the compositions based on the readings. ‘KutubKhana’ could mistakenly be viewed as a calligraphic exhibition not only because of the primary role of printed language but the incandescent miniature-infused techniques.
The compositions amalgamate an array of elements which range from physical skill to eerie detailing and conflicting themes. These waslis conjure very strong and uninhibited emotions partially because the ink and colouration are in rich, earthy tones. Furthermore, the layering and feathering of the pieces of text is an extremely unique feature which makes these paintings seem unattainable to the human touch. The regulated curls of paper and the hybrid feel resemble an animal’s coat of fur or a carpet just recently brushed through. In some particular waslis the composition’s focal point is a central circle with the text moving around in a certain peripheral direction and the pieces of text transform into a visual metaphor of wind.
Ghulam Mohammad remarks that each piece has its own connection with the text; at times there are personal anecdotes with the art work and at times it is a social commentary on society’s evolution. Not only can the artwork be interpreted in a variety of ways but ‘KutubKhana’ is one of the few miniature exhibitions which welcome the viewer to see the paintings from different angles. From the side view there is the noticeable wiry texture of the paper pieces curling up and it reminds one of the feeling of goose bumps on the human skin. His clever understanding of layering and detailing is synonymous with the nature of language and communication. Scripture and revered holy texts are possibly the initial form of written documentation but with time language has not only moved on from serving a particular cause but has created room for trouble and misunderstandings. There is a certain wild and dangerous feel to the waslis, because even though small in size and scale, the texture makes them seem alive and personified. While Ghulam Mohammad does not feel the need to translate and understand the books he uses, his creativity can be seen as a somewhat silent collaboration with the authors of the books he collects. As there is a meticulously patient artist behind each and every wasli of ,KutubKhana, the viewer is left to wonder about how each piece has its own untraceable history and an unpredictable future.
‘Ghulam Mohammad: KutubKhana’ ran at Sanat Gallery from 16-28 January 2015. Images courtesy Sanat Gallery.
Veera Rustomji is a Fine Art student at the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture. She has been a freelance writer for the past two years and enjoys conducting research within the field of art