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Still Painting

Inaam Zafar’s work consists of paintings of stills from a lesser-known and under-rated film from over three decades ago. But to say that the artist’s work is outdated would be outright incorrect, and not just for the most blatant reason.

Zafar’s work, titled ‘dih-still.ed’ and showcased recently by the Sanath Initiative as part of its second show, draws parallels with the country’s current socio-political scenario to thatof the movie.

The film in question is celebrated filmmaker Jamil Dehlavi’s The Blood of Hussain, directed in 1981. Lesser-known and under-rated, because its anti-military stance saw it banned across the country by then military dictator Gen Zia ul Haq.

Controversial as it may be, the film will never be irrelevant in a place as volatile, politically unstable and democratically fragile as Pakistan. The artist’s interest lies, therefore, in the contemporary nature of the film – that despite the lapse of many decades, “the world of our region rotates around the same sprained axis,” as the artist puts it.

This, however, is not just the only factor that makes Zafar’s work relevant and his show is not just another show that is smothered in current affairs and the ongoing political crises. But most significantly, is an exhibition about painting and comes at a time when the institution of painting, the oldest of all mediums, has evolved into the most challenging of all art forms.

The exhibition consists of paintings that are small, concentrated and intimate. By creating an image from another image, Zafar’s work takes on the unending debate on painting in the face of photography, conceptual art, installation and digital technologies, making the relationship between image making and painting even more important. For the artist is not only involved in the content of his subject (the film) but also its physical nature. Working directly from the screen, Zafar’s modus operandi is not to replicate (“because for that, prints would have served well,” says the artist); instead, he aims to imitate the ominous glow emitted from the LCD screen.

The grainy surfaces built on the canvases, working in harmony with the flat brush strokes, suggest a kind of noise – giving each paused image, discreet movement. Using muted tones his work involves a certain amount of blurring. And yet, the more you look, the more diversity there is. Thus at the heart of each painting, lurks a sense of kinetic fierceness; a play of show and hide – is that plane landing or taking off? The ambiguity is deliberate and perhaps for this reason, Zafar’s canvases reject any attempt to bring the subject matter into focus.

Wading through layers of mediation, capturing mostly the banal and mundane scenes of the film that do not suggest climaxes or introduce protagonists, the artist opens his work to a wider audience. These fragmented moments put forward the everyday, giving each image a more universal and recognisable appeal.  His paintings are not emotional but instead inquisitive. Stripped of psychology, the paintings primarily focus on the formal, material aspects and come together with all its blurriness, to create not one, but many a narrative.

One can say the blur was intended to distort the image or used as a simile for memory. However, when viewing the works formally, the blur brings to surface a kind of flatness – whereby everything is equally important and unimportant – something films cannot do. Perhaps for this very reason, Zafar is still painting.

‘[dih-still.ed]: Works by Inaam Zafar’ runs at Sanat Gallery, Karachi, from 20 August to 11 September 2014.

Seher Naveed is a Fine Arts senior lecturer at the Indus Valley School of Art and has shown in local and international group exhibitions

 

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