‘Shafaq’ was the title of Meher Afroz’s latest solo exhibition at O Art Space, Lahore. Through her work, Afroz responded to one of the verses by the poet Jaun Elia and has taken the word shafaq which literally means ‘twilight’.
Upon entering the gallery one is taken aback in absolute admiration by the depth and sensitivity of Afroz’s paintings. The paintings are almost like pages from an old journal, brown and parched as if worn down with time, with each page holding a narrative of its own. This body of work is highly personal yet political; it is multi-faceted. It resonates deeply from within and it is soulful.
Deep earthen colours, mainly hues of browns, reds and greys highlighted along with gold and silver dominate the show. These are gently layered with text scrawled in various directions with delicate geometrical patterns. They are about memories and associations and tend to convey a sense of unease initially but after adjusting to its deliberations the paintings stay with the viewer for a long time. Every mark has an association and is placed with much thought. For example in her works titled ‘Shafaq 8’ and ‘Shafaq 9’, Afroz has constructed elongated fragments of parched paper with red thread, interlaced with delicately written text also in shades of red. Maybe in the simple act of stitching, the maker is trying to heal a deep wound. Or maybe, she is seeking a release from the loss and hurt that one endures in a lifetime. The works are also reminiscent of woven textiles stitched and scarred with the passage of time with the use of thread, possibly alluding to the loss of lives.
The more one looks the more one becomes seduced by her works. Her mark-making is sensitive and elegant. Like twilight, the paintings are ambiguous in nature. They seem to belong to another time and have disquiet about them and sometimes a feeling of being boxed in. This is especially prevalent in the paintings titled ‘Shafaq 1’ and ‘Shafaq 2’, where the works have been divided into two halves. The top half has been worked in a grid like structure with silver leaf and the bottom half in a shade of not quite grey. The grid perhaps signifies a feeling of isolation and of being trapped in situations beyond one’s control. Perhaps, a reminder of past political situations but simultaneously also serving as a warning of current situations. The layers and layers of peeling paint not only lend an antiquated feel to the works but also serve as a reminder of the trauma that one has to endure; the pain of those displaced and the wordless stories of those who have only known a lifetime of violence.
As Salwat Ali, an art critic and an author aptly says, “Layered with meaning, her artwork speaks on many levels. Informed by Urdu poetry and prose, folk heritage and memories of life in Lucknow her art has always resonated with human emotion.” Overall, Afroz’s works, like the artist herself are soft and gentle yet strong and powerful. There is something bursting to be set free and a feeling of a lot unsaid. They are understated and have a sense of isolation to them. Every painting seems to be inflicted with the vagaries of time. Each stroke is crafted with care and each colour added with much contemplation. But, she has begun that long journey within.
“And you, when will you begin your long journey within” – Rumi