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REFLECTION- Shifting Notions of Identity in the Art Space  


The 18 person show, ‘Reflection’, which opened recently at Sanat Gallery saw the collaboration of 6 artists with six photographers and 6 writers. A show conceptualized by artist RM Naeem, the impetus was an itch to rethink old orders of merit in the art practice, presenting photographers and writers with the gravitas usually reserved for artists. The artists were tasked with creating three works: a self portrait, a work that was characteristic of their oevure, and a deviation in style.


The idea of identity, in particular portrayed identity, is central to the show. For this purpose the artist was to be the subject of a photograph taken by a photographer of their choosing, and their art was to be the starting point of a written work by a writer of their choice. Relatively free of editorial constraint, the writers work is published in an accompanying catalogue that posits engagement with the text as a rightful expectation of readers. In keeping with the ethos of the show, I shall consider the collective impact of the partnership, artist-photographer-writer, as opposed to that of individuals.


RM Naeem, photographer Hassan Rana and writer Numair Abbasi’s works formed a curious amalgam whose individual parts highlighted the varied nature of personal experiences. Each work underscored the multiple narratives, those that are hidden and those that are public, that come together to create the emotional and idealogical cacophony of an individual’s personality. Naeem and Rana did this by representing their subjects (the bust of Buddha, minarets, Naeem himself) as active characters within a space, where space itself (the picture frame, the gallery, the viewers) was sentient, both influencing and influenced by the other. Abbasi’s written piece was a Facebook Messenger conversation between himself and Naeem, spanning 16 days, printed in the catalogue to look as it did on the interface. Through the conversation the duo discussed their personal beliefs and often contrary feelings regarding the ideas, identities, facts and artifices that made them whole.


While Naeem, Rana and Abbasi focused on the esoteric, artist Muhammad Zeeshan, photographer Amean J and writer Seher Naveed’s collaboration satirically presented the artist as some reductive incarnation from pop-culture. Zeeshan’s self titled work ‘Muhammad Zeeshan’ was a 3×27 cm velvet mount with the words “Muhammad Zeeshan” written across it with a golden marker, taking up most of the surface area of the work. In a corner, small and seemingly insignificant is a 24karat gold biscuit. The artwork questions consumerism and the avidity of collectors, for whom renowned artists are like coveted trophies. The banality of the automated persona is reinforced through Naveed’s writing that is presented as Zeesha’s Curriculum Vitae. Informative, but objective- almost clinical. Amean J’s “Sides-M Zeeshan”, uses 4 plains of the very tangible, quintessentially three dimensional object, the cube, to display the front, back, right and left profiles of Zeeshan’s head, putting the artist, quite literally, in a box. It is as eloquent as it is mordant.


Although similarly alert to offbeat art-world ironies, artist Ali Kazim, photographer Khalil Shah and writer Julius John Alam’s works result in a dialogue that is more receptive than sardonic in attitude. Alam’s interview with Kazim creates a shared space where the ‘label’ of speaker, creator and artist rally back and forth. The idea of a portrait, staged and curated and completed over time, is seen literally in Shah’s statuesque photo of Kazim, but it is also conceptually echoed in Kazim’s artworks and Alam’s interview; the individual’s personal understanding of themselves and the public’s characterization of them prove that artists are conglomerates of their culture and surroundings.


Artist Mudassar Manzoor’s work speaks to infinite universal experiences engulfing each individual while photographer Qudsia Shahnawaz’s photograph of Manzoor reinforces this idea by featuring a double image of the artist being taken over by something larger than him. Photography, which can itself be seen as a process of doubling is especially good at creating the uncanny. It can be manipulated and infinitely reproduced. Epiphanies triggered by the hues and textures in Manzoor’s work are verbalized in writer Sana

Kazi’s piece, using critique to create fresh understanding.


Artist Waseem Ahmed, photographer Mudassar Dar and writer Sehr Jalil’s interpretation of the brief was particularly interesting. Here, the persona of the artist is irrelevant. He is just a voice, a vehicle through which certain themes, in this case the fears and concerns surrounding contemporary war and politics, come to light. Jalil’s piece serves as poetry and abstarction, using the colour green from Ahmed’s paintings as a metaphor for envy, patriotism and all things natural, while Dar’s portrait of a silhouetted Ahmed against a white, window-like rectangle challenge the viewer to look beyond obvious facades.


Artist Adeel uz Zafar, photographer Jaffer Hasan and writer Zarmeené Shah’s partnership was distinguishable and unique because their investigation of identity politics focused on the ‘in between’, the grey. Largely restricting themselves to this monochromatic colour palette, Zafar, Hasan and Shah’s work seems to lift the veil on the process of photography, art and writing by considering the nuance required by each art form. The layers of meaning in Zafar’s labour intense engraving of a bandaged chimp reverberate in Hasan’s photograph of Zafar where the artist is featured in the style of his subjects: bandaged in gauze, confined within the picture frame, and achromic. Shah’s writing, also printed in shades of grey, feature excerpts from notes, essays, conversations and interviews between herself and Zafar, amassed over a 3 year period. The format of the piece, using italics and bold, fluctuating between upper and lower cases suggest heightened and fluctuating states of mind that are open to the reader and evolve with their internalization of the with the text.


Reflection highlights that the conveyers of these 3 different art forms are unqualified to and should not be expected to understand art in the language of one particular form. Their strength lies in their ability to interpret art in a way that the others cannot: as themselves. It makes the case that art should not be remitted to a separate realm where it is intellectually removed from the concepts, influences and people that collaborated to create it.


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