Textile journey through time and ecology

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Textile journey through time and ecology

The call to action embedded into Bhutto’s conceptualizations creates a sense of urgency for the reconciliation of ecological disturbances using the f

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The call to action embedded into Bhutto’s conceptualizations creates a sense of urgency for the reconciliation of ecological disturbances using the framework of mysticism

The artist journeying into the past chooses to relive certain shared histories that are anchored into the collective consciousness as a process of reclamation bringing back a sequence of revisions that act as catalysts for reformation that are informed by the present. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto has taken on this herculean task of exploring ecology as an interstellar medium that binds together the environment, community and self unrestricted by limitations of philosophy, science, culture, politics or history. His solo presentation titled “Tomorrow We Inherit The Earth – a study in textile” is currently happening at COMO Museum Of Art, Lahore featuring a decade of explorations separated into three distinct eras creating a retrospective journey into the artist’s practice. 

The incorporation of spoken word poetry written and performed by the artist in his film “Tomorrow We Inherit The Earth” initiates the cross-examination of the internalised wounding of a collective identity that even though took place in the past has caused strife, conflict and the eventual collapse of humanitarianism. The visuals presented as the backdrop to the oration are layered images of decaying animal corpses paired with decomposing flowers. The artist revisits stories of guerilla warfare with a lens of compassion and inclusivity. He relays disappointment by saying “It is only then that you realise that those you have always looked up to and the systems you trusted so deeply have failed you”, perhaps this acknowledgement of the consequences of sharing an imperialistic history laid the foundation for the artist to embark on a heroic quest for indigenous, ancestral and mystical associations within himself. The film’s poetic verses come together like a tapestry creating a parallel for the series of hand-crafted wall hangings “Flora Bazooka”, “Imtiaz” and “Rose Garden”, those digital collages seen on screen have been transformed into ornate tributes using techniques of embroidery, applique, quilting and screen printing. 

The call to action embedded into Bhutto’s conceptualizations creates a sense of urgency for the reconciliation of ecological disturbances using the framework of mysticism and transcendental staging of imagery. The pairing of the pieces “Nazar” and “Modern Attack” creates a kind of hieroglyphic wherein the artist is orchestrating a reexamination of duality as a limited construct of logic. The embellished alter becomes a portal into imagining a world without binary constrictions referencing the mystical third eye as an intervention to transcend the physiological symmetry of vision associated with the earthly world. In the artist’s depictions, the figurative forms begin to morph and evolve into the patterns and motifs as seen in “Setting Sun” where the bodies become forms of terrain against a sun made from gold fabric. These handwoven threadwork and trimmings act as a transformative intervention that is an integral part of the artist’s visual deconstruction of the male body. The emancipation of the individual is staged by the process of applique using drapery, embroidered patterns and quilting as an added layer of garb stitched on the body in works such as “Zhavedan Dulha” and “Zhavedan Abu Nawaz Ibn Quzman” paving alternative perspectives on masculinity. The spirit of heroism here is a central theme as the artist first photographed bodybuilders and wrestlers, who he then revisioned through his textile interventions fictionalising them with a set of fabric collaged wings, a gas mask or a bull’s head.  

Looking back at the beginning of Bhutto’s investigations into masculinity the series “Mussalmaan Musclemen” marks the initial stages of interventions using floral printed fabrics and colourful thread work. As early work from the series is in the form of a 6 leaves binder titled “Best Body Builder In the World (book)” and “Learn Body Building” the images were taken directly from the Urdu-translated Arnold Schwarzenegger” bodybuilder guide titled Mussalmaan Musclemen – Learn Body Building that the artist printed on cotton. Here the begins to draw the first duality between a sculpted body and the softness of the fabric. The leaves are paired with pastel colourful satin backings immediately changing the nature of the masculinity depicted. The weight of flexing muscles is replaced with floral patterns appliqued to de-escalate their monochromatic intensity. The artist creates life-sized representations of the bodybuilders from the books, the quilting amplifies the floral motifs by placing “Straight” on the floor referencing blankets used domestically. The hostile environment typically associated with macho bodybuilders is polarised through the process into an intimate, joyful and calm exchange for the viewer.  

The artist’s interest in analogue photography has been further developed in the “Bulhan Nameh – Dolphin Diaries” as he uses a pinhole camera to build relationships with historical sites, routes, communities and wildlife. An in-depth study of the 10-kilometre range from the River Indus between Sukkur and Rohri in Sindh revealed several intersectional crossroads of history to the artist; he experiences centuries of evolution through the archival mapping of the region’s ecology. In “Nazir Mirani through a dolphin’s eyes” the image is stitched together through a series of cyanotypes depicting a bridge over a mighty river with a lone fisherman in the foreground. The artist visualises the dolphin here as a witness being able to communicate with its environment. Visuals encoded with the blue of the cyanotypes have a transportive quality as if viewing the world through the lens of marine life. The Sukkur Barrage becomes an access point for the artist in understanding the devastating impact of colonisation, urbanisation and land irrigation that has now become evident as the cause of natural disasters like the recent flooding in Sindh. To experience the overwhelming damage to the natural ecology of the region the artist created an immersive walkthrough “Dolphins Circling Sadhu Bela” where a series of panels of cyanotype prints depict two dolphins circling on one side while the opposite panels have the imagery of a “Sadhu Bela” one of Pakistan’s largest Hindu temples. The artist reveres the dolphin as a presence transcendental in nature that must be protected to restore the natural balance of ecology. 

Through these various visual trajectories, the artist can deepen his understanding of ecology, history, and identity creating meaningful lived experiences through his art practice. The retrospective will continue to be displayed at COMO Art Museum till June 2023. 

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