Five emerging artists showcased their work at Canvas Gallery in an exhibition with the enigmatic title Five Sides of a Square. Amna Suheyl, Ghazi Sikander Mirza, Kiran Waseem, Sana Saeed and Zahra Ehsan are all graduates of The National College of Arts, Lahore. This show was curated by Quddus Mirza who himself has a long affiliation with the College.
In his curatorial statement, Quddus Mirza explains the poetic license taken with the fundamental properties of the square, as a metaphor that conveys the engagement of the artists with the complexities of society, an engagement in which “reality: objective, physical, personal, private, imaginary – residing in memory and recollection – is captured, using like a world that is round, but often represented within like a square.”
Certainly, a collective overview of the works shows a keen involvement on the part of each artist with what is outside the self, the external world that continuously interacts with the autobiographical self. Their foray into the world, as observers or participants, is in the form of a dialogue. The narratives that emerge from their art indicates that the sense of selfhood is rooted in the experience of the outer – the happenings, the movements and the people – that contributes a palpable temporality to chronological experience.
Kiran Waseem and Ghazi Sikander Mirza focus on synchronic or single moments in time. They look out on an urban landscape and, much like a camera, they capture moments that arrest movements in time and space.
Kiran Waseem’s “Presume” series in Acrylic on canvas, are set at night. Forms such as of buildings, electric wiring and moving vehicles have been rendered in shades of grey. The dark tones have been handled with skill. Images hover on the edge of perceptibility. The lights of moving vehicles become gestural marks – streaks of yellow or red – the context of which must be deduced by the viewer.
These nightscapes are hugely atmospheric. The material products of human habitation are present but the artist has chosen to remove people from the scene. In “Presume 2”, a tall lamppost sheds its fluorescent light onto itself. It is a utilitarian object and yet it has been charged with a hint of anthropomorphism. Waseem says her work: “is based on the idea of travelling where memory and imagination meet and separate. My passion is for my city and the connection of life with it which flows in the fleeting moment of time.”
With Ghazi Sikander Mirza’s work, we move from the night into the clear light of day. He works in charcoal, paint and ink to create portraits of commuters in the heavy traffic of Lahore. His vantage point is centered in the eye of the storm of traffic from where he captures fleeting expressions. The open structure of public transport such as chingchis and motorbikes facilitates the intimacy of contact with this vast stream of mobile humanity. Some commuters huddle close to one another yet are locked in a cocoon of their own preoccupations. Some engage in chitchat while others register the artist who observes them. Mirza describes these interface moments: “When confronted, it is as though a wall of people is being followed, but as soon as one becomes conscious of this, the relationship alters and the wall of people travelling become passengers of the same journey,” Mirza’s dynamic style of sketching suits the subject he has chosen to depict.
The tenor of the paintings on show becomes more autobiographical with the work of Zahrah Ehsan, Amna Suheyl and Sana Saeed. Their narrative is diachronic; it conveys change that occurs over a passage of time.
Zahrah Ehsan’s ‘Half Birthday Celebration’ series in mixed media on canvas are exuberant combinations of drips, gestural marks and graffiti-like lettering. The poster paint vibrancy of stroke and color conveys a stream-of-conscious fluidity. Each canvas acts like a theatre within which several performances occur simultaneously. The drama and faux naivete are veneers under which anxiety lingers. As the artist say of her “snippets of mess”: “It was a way to activate my given studio space allowing me to speak about incarceration within expectations/promises that are perpetually undelivered.”
Amna Suheyl’s aquatints rendered in charcoal and sepia tones are deeply nostalgic evocations of loss. Amna looks at reconstituting identity through the experience of dual loss, namely, that of a homeland and of her mother. She uses key words as portals to enter into a state of mind that summons the ability to recall. The Welsh word “Hiraeth” which suggests longing, resonates with her recall of a lost homeland (East Pakistan) from where her mother moved away in 1971. The Bengali word for memory, “Smriti”, is another portal that partners with her sense of longing.
Amna recreates these feelings in her work. Spare in color and detail, her aquatints show ghostly forms that – like memory – are in a transitory state between obscurity and clarity. She has endowed her work with powerfully suggestive titles such as “Over the Stone Plinth…of an Earlier Structure”, “Tinge of Memory” and “You and I are of One Blood”. Like koans, these titles work like triggers for emotions that are strongly felt and difficult to explain.
Memory is also central to Sana Saeed’s explorations of time which she examines through physical and memory “traces”. Working in oil and charcoal on canvas, Sana focuses on the “uncertainty of life” by recording “the presence of time which is embossed in countless surfaces around us”.
Her painting of an emaciated person in “Living is Dying – 2” shows a body placed on the diagonal. The voluminous folds of a soft white muslin shirt hint at the receding of flesh that is occurring in the person whose body they enclose. In “Once upon a Time – 1”, a pillow becomes the subject of the drawing. The indented center of the pillow is a poignant trace of the head that once rested on it but has now moved on.
The five artists in Five Sides of a Square, measure their experiences through thoughtful mediation of self, time and place.