stillbydefaultreview1

Still by Default

The group exhibition ‘But the most beautiful thing about my burrow is the stillness’ at the Taseer Gallery, Lahore showcases works of Sarah Mumtaz, Sarah Hashmi, Zara Asghar and Naira Mushtaq.
Inspired by Kafka’s The Burrow, the monologue of a paranoid mole describing his burrow with disturbing realism symbolically explicating how the exhausting conquest of one’s own home ultimately betrays the impossibility of ever really living at peace. The successful completion of the Burrow is praised and questioned, and these fortuitous inversions occur throughout the story: first there is the praise of the work accomplished and then what follows is the realization that the purpose of the work was not accomplished.
Naira Mushtaq, a recent graduated from the National College of Arts, Lahore, appropriates old photographs in her works which collects from various sources, not knowing most of the subjects of the photographs, Mushtaq distances herself from the subjects and events in the photograph, in a way allowing her to treat these photographs as mere imagery rather than relics or totems of emotional occurrences. Their generic imagery arises familiarity and associating, or a sense of it.
It is always interesting to see how medium and one’s interaction and interplay become symbolical in ways the artist might not have planned or intended it to be. Her use of gel medium to transfer the image requires her to rub away thin layers of paper for the real image to appear. Once it does, she questions how real it is. The act of transferring the image, it appearance in reverse (such as in 18-4-1997) and then critically intervening in it questioning the relativity of the past and thus also that of reality. It is in this way that the artist cleverly mimicks Kafka’s mole who first works towards achieving security in the form of a domicile, and later questions the relativity of its security.
In 14-11-1956, a man stands facing a gathering. How many of them would he remember today, five decades later if he were to reiterate the incident? At times, the task of narrating the past can be like writing a better-than-reality job resume – only the positive parts are put on paper while those that diminish the cogency or unity of the message are often edited out. Also, if we look at the present, we can see that countless things occur each day and so it is impossible to record them all or retell all of them at a later time. History is thus already selective by default, shaped by the choices of the narrator. All of us make these choices. And it is perhaps for this reason that history often tells us more about those who narrate the historic “tale” than about what had really happened in the past.
Sarah Hashmi’s use of geometric patterns to imply repetition has almost taken the form of a formula in art. Where there a desire to imply repetition, one can almost bet on it that there will be a pattern- a geometric pattern. The bigger the cliché, the bigger the challenge to deconstruct it.
Zara Asghars works with textures and forms in an attempt to construct scapes, both physical and psychological. The coarse, animal fur like texture of her drapery creates an air of eeriness. However, the drawings look like works in process, resembling academic drawings.
Sarah Mumtaz is currently teaching illustration at Punjab University, which has informed this body of work. Mumtaz employs the animal rationale, a longstanding means to study the human rationale. The animal living in the burrow is no other than a human being and the burrow is arguably the human need to self-justification. Or in this case the artist’s search or realizing one’s self or that justification. Her work is introspective in nature, spontaneous and unpremeditated. Her work Joint family studies the unanticipated resultant mutations of a joint family, which has rendered her disability. Commonly known to symbolize symbolizes wealth, abundance and harmony, the goldfish inShe was always waiting, it seemed to be her forte creates an uncanny setting paired with the female body that postulates self-possession. The figures in her works are in process of mutation or rather in her words, metamorphosis. The product of which the artists nor her subjects are both unfamiliar of and anticipate.
“But the most beautiful thing about my burrow is the stillness.” But a reversal follows immediately. “Of course that is deceptive.” However, things of this world are in so constantly in a flux, that nothing remains long in the same state by default. But then again, all the motions add up to stillness, don’t they? The exploration of such reversals and inherent contradictions are what bring these artists together.
‘But the most beautiful thing about my burrow is the stillness’ was on at Taseer Art Gallery, Lahore, from 10-14 February 2014.
Madiha Sikander is a visual artist and writer based in Lahore.

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