On the 5th of April 2019, Art Kaam gallery opened up an exciting exhibition titled ‘Teen’, featuring works of three young, emerging artists. All three of the artists, although being reasonably recent graduates of the Indus Valley school of Art and Architecture, showcased works that were distinct not only in terms of idea but also in terms of medium and visual language. The three artists namely Kiran Saleem, Sadia Safdar & Saleha Qureshi put up work that resonates their individual relationship to the city, to society and the question of identity. The use of unusual material and unconventional techniques employed in the making of these works is what sets it apart from many exhibitions.
When we speak of unique usage of material and medium, Kiran Saleem’s body of work ‘WasHer’ comes to mind immediately. She uses small ‘metal washers’ as a unit to create the sculptural form of a curtain which she describes as a barrier. The allusive nature of Saleem’s work is what draws the viewer’s interest. Her ability to use these rigid, hard pieces of metal to create the illusion of the softness and fall of fabric is particularly astonishing. The softness of fabric along with harshness of metal creates a conflicting dual cognitive experience for a viewer. It invites one to question and to reaffirm their decision to view it as fabric or as armor? Interestingly this duality is not just apparent visually but also reflective in her artist statement where she talks about the simultaneous resonation of these sculptural works to a soft and fragile curtain as well as a protective shield or armor.
Kiran’s work emerges from her own past experience of a voyeuristic encounter, where her personal space was intruded without consent. Her work draws from this experience and expands to address the wider concern of the vulnerability of the female body in spaces. Interestingly the use of washers as material, while still maintaining the rigid and armor-like quality of a protective barrier, also allows one to look through it. Perhaps this is a comment on the constant vulnerability of being unsafe in a safe space. This aspect again is an ode to the duality that is intrinsic to Saleem’s body of work.
Another artist working with unconventional material is Sadia Safdar, who uses fiber and wire mesh to create picturesque cityscapes of old buildings and national monuments in Karachi. These drawings have an unusual quality of softness perhaps because of the material in use. Her work is about movement in more than one sense. Firstly, in a literal sense – her movement to and within the city. And secondly movement in a visual sense, not only does the viewer’s eye move within the visual but also the viewer has to move back a certain distance in order to see the image. She talks about her process of layering and building these visuals and how it adds to this idea of movement within Karachi.
She works with the pattern of the mesh, playing with grids to create layered visuals of these buildings that appreciate the beauty of these buildings that are so often clouded by the other things around it. Safdar very much intentionally excludes the surroundings of these building, the traffic etc. perhaps a nod to the artist’s own view of the city and what stands out to her. The overlapping grid almost gives it the feel of a person looking out through the netting of a window, reiterating the idea of it being the artist’s personal vantage point.
Interestingly this idea of looking through the artist’s eye ties in with the work of another one of the three artists participating in this exhibition, Saleha Qureshi. Qureshi’s series of works titled “It’s Gone” as the name implies revolves around the memory of a past time. Her paintings depict these memories and a fading sense of nostalgia regarding the connection she held with the sea as a child. The visual language of the work depicts the journey one has with spaces, people and memories of their past. The trajectory of life, growing up and moving away and looking through the crevices in our memories into a time that seems to be nothing more than a distanced visual. The nature of memory, known to distort and fade over time is something the artists reflects through her painting. The visual play of inside and outside is particularly intriguing in Qureshi’s depictions of her memory of looking at the sea through her window.
To conclude, one must acknowledge this distinct yet interestingly analogous, group of three or rather teen, for putting together a uniquely refreshing show that not only talks about their own personal experiences but also comments on themes and concerns relatable to many.