A popular and prevalent backdrop in Karachi the Bougainvillea rampages across the metropolis with its vibrant colors and sprawling vines, serving as a crescendo to barren silence. These forceful, wild yet versatile growers scrambled over many a wall and other plants, with their spiny thorns, to steal the spotlight in the cool month of January 2017.
Clambering and clawing
Grasping hooks, crannies
a crown of thorns
flowering purple red blood[i]
An aspiring young artist drew on her sensibilities to come forward with a subject that long desired an ovation. Jovita Alvares’s solo show Wallflower reconnoiters the powerful presence of the Bougainvillea plant signifying it’s potent and commandeering relationship with the concrete structures of urbanization.
The show came as a result of the young artist wining the second cycle of the Imran Mir Art Prize[ii] which counted in a showing at the Imran Mir Studio housed within the late artist’s residence. The body of work exhibited had been in process for almost a year. Right after winning the award the remarkable young valedictorian[iii] also secured the Fourth Sanat[iv] Residency. During the residency she had the opportunity of spending quality time with Aziz Sohail[v] who mentored her as the curatorial advisor for Wallflower.
Alvares desired to create a show, which would be unique but remain true to her practice and process. She started developing new ideas through thorough exploration and investigation. ‘Though, it may not look like it, this show is in fact a continuation of my previous work’, the artist shared.
The artist always had a fascination for strays and followed them around documenting them through her camera; a practice capping into her final year thesis. After graduation and upon taking up a job she was joggled out of the comfort of her everyday environment. This meant she wasn’t spending many hours in her residential area. The artist started spending more time on the road traveling back and forth from work. This commute and route was new to her. Traveling to an upscale area of the city every single day meant she started seeing less of the stray dogs she had become accustomed to following and documenting. The dogs disappeared, the roads became smoother and the residential areas in the new vicinity were no longer driven by vertical and shared complexes. But, this shift in urban landscape was not what caught her fancy. It was the riot of color and the abundance with which the Bougainvillea sprawled all around her that caught her eyes and lured her mind.
She studied and experimented with the plant for a whole year. The Bougainvillea was documented in detail each day while she was on her way to work. The commute became the basis of inquiry and record keeping. She would then share her findings and experiences with her mentor, Aziz Sohail. Discussions ensued between the artist and curator which helped in shaping the artist’s narrative.
‘… Resulting work drew from both art and architecture featuring juxtaposed frames referencing the city in ceaseless and dynamic transformation. Her critical relationship to her source material also draws attention to the question of the artist’s responsibility towards society’.[vi]
In conjunction with her documentation and that of developing a narrative, Alvares engaged in extensive experimentation before achieving her final artworks. She worked with a variety of conventional and non-conventional materials. Experimenting with media and space she was able to successfully develop a strong understanding on how the medium aids the narrative and how space and arrangement determines a successful exhibit.
The choice of medium came in direct response to the way Alvares felt about the subject. The artist reflected on the fact that the plant is used as a wallflower most often despite the fact that it is flexible enough to be pruned into a shrub or cultivated and shaped into a bonsai. The one hundred and fifty five inch long panel which shared the name with the title of the show ‘ Wallflower’ was printed on a vinyl sticker. The artist chose the arrangement, scale and medium to emphasize the contextual role of the flower which almost seemed to serve as a non-invasive and un-intrusive element; always there, always present in the Karachi landscape but usually overlooked. By digitally stitching together stills from a video and creating one long image, it felt right for the artist to print the imagery on the unobtrusive sticker vinyl and display it as wallpaper.
The series titled Dream Flower, I – IV, was painted in oil on wasli[vii] whereas the series Barbed Wire, ranging from I till VI were images painted in oil or printed on canvases. The artist finds comfort while working with paint based mediums; a medium which helped me achieve the delicacy of the flower and its relationship with rigid manmade objects the artist confirmed.
Dying Flowers V & VI were mounted on light-boxes to accentuate the scanned photographs of the progressive decay and silent wilting of the bougainvillea over time. The light boxes were the size of the artist’s scanner-bed and the use of subtle light coming from only one source was important to suggest the waning of the flower albeit the colorful petals subtly reflected through the emitting light. This particular series seem to reflect on the transformation of our city into standardized urban habitations threating the mortality of mother-nature.
In a frisky and subjective manner Jovita Alvares’ Wallflower efficaciously created a space in which echoed great complexity and penetration indicating a cross-fertilization of nature and structured urban expansion. What began as a single plot by the artist successfully amplified into a multi-layered narrative by the time the last lines were read.
[i] verse from Marshall Gass’ poem Bougainvillea
[ii] true to the legacy of the late artist Imran Mir, The Imran Mir Art Foundation (IMAF) promotes young artists of Pakistan.
[iii] Jovita Alvares graduated with a BFA from the Indus Valley School of Art & Architecture (IVS),Karachi, in 2017 securing the highest in academic ranking across all disciplines.
[iv] Sanat Residency invites artists to develop projects that respond to new contexts and experiences to broaden their horizons, or to conduct research.
[v] independent curator and writer who has successfully curated shows within and outside of Pakistan.
[vi] excerpt from the curatorial statement
[vii] a type of handmade paper, of varying thickness, used specifically for painting miniatures.