Usman Saeed’s mystical exhibition Gardenfinds One was showcased at the KOEL gallery in October 2017. His work explores a characteristic and transcendent interpretation of a reciprocal cresting between mankind and nature.
I visited the gallery a day prior to the opening to meet the artist and to view his collection. On entering the gallery I was taken in by the celestial visions adorning the walls to create an ambience of restrained marvel – the entire air resonated the nous of totality.
Saeed designates his time spent in the garden as a source of inspiration for this collection. Ghania Badr, a friend of the artist and a practicing ceramist, termed his garden as an “observatory lab” – the proficiencies of which are then translated into studio practice. Gardenfinds One is a cognizant attempt to recount the metaphysical dynamics of his experiences during the time spent amid the plants he cultivates and nurtures. His practice becomes a form of zikr[i] serving as linctus for the soul.
By keeping his works free of glass frames he allows the overpowering smell of the Arches France paper to imitate the smell of the soil which entices his senses and his soul at the start of each day. The inadvertent whiff created by the combination of the arches paper, Korean ink and watercolors is reminiscent of the petrichor[ii] of morning soil thus serving as an allegory for rejuvenation. He wants the visitors to breathe in the fragrance and make it a part of their experience inevitably resulting in a sensory awakening; an awakening that ignites wistfulness and longing.
The power of darkness (ego) and negativity (sin) is emblematically absorbed into the black Korean Ink, which serves as a metaphor for catharsis, to give way to luminosity (rebirth). On the other hand, simple acts- remembrance, prayer and love- also serve as a catharsis for hope which resonates in the rich pulsating radiance present in each composition. For him the act of gardening echoes the attributes of faqr[iii] -a path which will lead to redemption and rejuvenation.
A central component supporting the theme and assisting the artist is the conjoint submission of cyclic dimensions of geometry and luminosity to create a discourse on divinity. Through his compositions Saeed reflects upon the substantial progress of numerology, astronomy and physics[iv] underlying the symmetric order in the universe. His work is evident of the scientific theory of symmetry “providing structure and coherence to the laws of nature just as the laws of nature provide a structure and coherence to a set of events”[v].
The artist’s work indicates a synergetic relationship of the two faculties- intellect and sensibility. I experienced a probing awareness of a measured scientific and philosophic strand interwoven in the paintings.. The phenomena of work, on the one hand, synthesize conventional and contemporary narratives and on the other is a blend of scientific revolution and spiritual perfection.
The progressive narratives of the artist’s transcendent experiences within the space of his garden form a very personal account of their own. Deep into conversation Saeed spoke about ‘lost souls’ and it dawned on me that the process of creating this collection is an act of prayer, an act of attribution, in reality it is an act to commemorate the memories of loved ones no longer in this world– his mother and his grandmother. The morning ritual sparked memories and the act of gardening served as a spiritual portal.
Death and decay creates darkness but for the believing sayyah[vi] at the end of the dark tunnel there will always be light. And, with the break of dawn each day Usman Saeed witnesses the noor[vii] in the form of the numinous sunlight dancing on his plants which reach out to the rays in jubilation. Is this not healing then?