Viewers are invited into the open, crisp and inviting VM Art Gallery space that has curated two all-female painting group shows simultaneously on display in the same month. “In A Look” has paintings by artists Zoya Manan, Aiza Ahmed and Neshmia Salahuddin. The second exhibition “The Tales They Carry” is showcasing works by Dua Abbas Rizvi, Razin Rubin, Sarah Mir and Zoila Solomon. Catching yourself in a moment of reflection has been interpreted as an emotional, visceral and metaphorical perspective in classic literature, philosophy and psychology. The instantaneous connection between two people is catalysed by the act of sight. “In A Look” features immediate and spontaneous portraiture by Manan and Salahuddin while Ahmed embellishes her canvas with a production of visual elements to stage her subjects. The colours throughout the display are vivid, bold and confident with a sculptural weight in the linework. The artists celebrate color movement within their unique automatism through overlapping strokes, mixing, blending, and expressive cross-hatching that feels modern and unapologetic.
The fractal energy in Manan’s self-portraits has a push and pull tension created between the earthy skin tones and brightly coloured highlights. “Self Reflection I” & “Self Reflection II” are hung together with a readable duality on display where she is transitioning from an introverted image of herself with her body turned away to a closeup of her entirely facing the viewer with her hands gently resting underneath her face. There is a sense of self-acceptance, joy and attention in her gaze that is resting on a calm oceanic blue background. The painting “Self Delayering” has a hypnotic colour movement where parts of the body are playful and the face has a slight smile that feels proud and fully present. The body language is relaxed as Manan looks away lovingly into the distance and is resting on the floor with her hands anchored on her legs for support. Her portraits are in conversation with the viewer gazing back at her and the environment that is purposely left unfinished and exposed. The series showcases the artist’s deep dive into her psyche where she is painting herself through the process of concealing, revealing, posing and purposefully sharing various moods of her likeness with the viewer.
The intense black pigment used in “A Warm Welcome” & “Oh…look!” by Salahuddin has a permanent quality as if these portraits emerged from a giant rock that self-combusted. These tumbling rocks shaped as a hoard of faces came into existence all at the same time leaving no breathing space for the viewer. These drawings feel claustrophobic & overwhelming as if caught inside a traffic jam at rush hour, the viewer is trapped within the hustle-bustle of an endless stream of gawking eyes, curly hair, bushy eyebrows and facial hair. Salahuddin creates a black and white world of similar facial features, sunken eyes and sagging chins that are all too familiar a scene for a woman rushing through a crowded street of onlookers waiting to spectate, loiter and stare. The stoic portrait “Sakina” has a pale pink background while the cold expression on “Nasreen” has a bright red background both made with Linocut on Somerset. These sculptural masks created with Linocut have a heavy presence anchored by the vacant deep-set eyes, a recurring motif in Salahuddin’s series. She has created these graphic novel characters that feel like a wall of heads with an architecturally menacing formation. Their cold faces are void of emotions staring back at the viewer leaving them feeling exposed and uncomfortable.
The folklore and arcane characters inside Ahmed’s paintings are staged like a theatre production. The pensive colour mixing is carefully laid into the background creating various textures and depth of field. These chambers seem to have a prominent light entering through a luminescent stained glass. There is a refined protagonist in “A Musical Evening” in the foreground making eye contact with the viewer while the background has a host of gestural caricatures. The unfinished rendering of the court members feels comical and deliberately distorted allowing the viewer to imagine and interpret the scene from their perspective. Ahmed selectively detailed certain elements of her paintings, the portrait in “New Year, Same Wish” looks visibly dissatisfied as the eye travels; we encounter a whimsical parade of clown silhouettes that control the eye of the viewer traveling downwards to the detailed treats and donkey. Her colour fields are velvety and appear soft to touch as if draped in fine suede cloth. The somber orange hues of “Rose petals for Nano” captures a particular moment taken from her memory of grief transformed into a thermal scan. The old man seated in “Take A Seat” rendered in a gradient of pink hues looks out of the canvas at the viewer while a miniature styled portrait hangs at the back while the empty chair next to the old man feels like an emblem of a deceased loved one. These rose-coloured glasses that Ahmed uses to create stories of her subjects are coming together or unraveling depending on how we choose to interpret them. The portraits are in constant movement as the strokes are kept short and the layering of paint is thick creating moments of translucent spaces between.
Each artist’s series is a culmination of their observations, interactions and shared history. The act of painting is deeply personal for Manan as she uses her painting in an autobiographical format depicting a more psychological environment. Where Manan uses herself as a medium to evoke, emote and interact with her viewer, Salahuddin chooses to draw her subjects as a way to confront the lack of privacy in her environment. The collection of stories, culture, memories and experiences are all contributing to the painting works of Ahmed, as she imaginatively colours her environment in hues of her own choice. The exhibition feels like an emotional release as the artists share their intimate and solitary painting practice with the viewer, inviting them to join them on their journey.