The Aftermath of Meaning

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The Aftermath of Meaning

True to form, my first interview with Ujala Khan, M4HK and Scheherezade Junejo at Full Circle Gallery, the afternoon ahead of the opening day of the e

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True to form, my first interview with Ujala Khan, M4HK and Scheherezade Junejo at Full Circle Gallery, the afternoon ahead of the opening day of the exhibition, was an exercise in appreciative and critical reverse-engineering. Given the spectacular scale of work, the nature of the materials and high-frequency visuality of the body of work at hand, plus it’s presentation, the situation could not have done with less than an immersive session aimed at getting to understand the show by way of a set of givens: the sumptuous use of beaten metal foil by the suitcase-full, the impressive dimensions of most of the canvases, the siren-song emanating from the hordes of symbols populating each of the collaborative combinatoires, and the hectic energy being put into organizing the premises and display.

There is a certain difficulty in speaking of this kind of exhibition: an attempt to intelligently place the artists as bonafide makers of meaningful art and to give a justification of this claim, necessitates a referential framework in order to point out links to mid-career Piet Mondrian as well as the heyday of top-flight New York postmodernism in its most enthused form, an attempt that would need far more space than can be afforded in this review. Let us make a start, at any rate.

Firstly, Khan has in her possession precisely that full complement of commitment, technique and informed intuition to rely on, that leaves her squarely on a high plateau of her own. Here, in the laboratories of her searching mind, one imagines the gold and silver foil complaining loudly about processual methods of using acids, alkalis and whatnot, in pursuit of a marriage of textures and reflections encased eternally in oceans of transparent varnish. The surfaces of the canvases (eg. Shipwreck, Reptilia) provide the ground for limiting networks shaping flows, meticulous rhythmic distributions of long duration, of dense patterns overlaying large vertical stratifications and horizontal positionings of chromatic mass, broken colour and sculptural flying lines that unerringly create strong balanced dynamics, but which also make a powerful set of differentiae that give each canvas an identity according to her pictorial and emotional senses. As such, the canvas titled ‘Carthage’ is a strong example, very reminiscent of Mondrian’s extensive investigations in line and form.

Secondly, the collaborative works executed in partnership with M4HK, involving sheets of perforated metal and mixed media are in essence the finest works of postmodernism in art, anywhere, in it’s original uprising or late affection, however one wants it. No doubt the use of toys, strings and other objects in art dates quite some decades, but the sheer élan and audacity evident here are remarkable, not to be dismissed as being merely playful, especially considering the exuberant worldview inherent to this genre, all the more if one takes into account the historical and factual explosion of creative energies first released and encouraged by developments in videography and satellite TV in the final decades of the Nineteen Hundreds.

M4HK is the preferred code-name/nick that Mohammed Hayat Khan wishes to go by at the moment, and by his own telling, he is always on the lookout for opportunities to create new verbal moieties for himself. This anecdote is shared with me on our second collective meeting, the next day, when I discover the first half of the story of how the exhibition came into being, as it were. Scheherezade Junejo, who, as curator, is responsible for bringing Ujala Khan in for a second (this time, partnered) show at Full Circle Gallery then tells me of her initial perplexity. Junejo relates how she was not entirely prepared for the impact of the canvases, since a viewing of just digital images sent ahead of the show gave only a few clues to the incoming challenge of displaying such a large number of epic works, or the pace at which Khan has evolved as an artist.

Again, to go back to my remark about reverse-engineering the exhibition – it is only when we finally come around to properly discussing the chosen title, that the scenario completely unfolds and makes perfect sense: I realize that since, less Merleau-Ponty, but certainly Eco, Borges and Calvino, have a named descendant involved here – a book titled The House of Leaves, written by American author Mark Z. Danielewski in the year 2000, it’s no wonder, then, the ambition of gathering together exactly just these materials, these influences and references; no wonder the intrepid having a go at ordering reality via language (The Empire in My Mind), naming and presentation. Borrowings abound: Nazca drawings, Egyptian hieroglyphics and algebraic formulae, the Mexican Day of The Dead, Midas himself. In short, we are being asked to partake of the feeling generated by momentous discovery – that feeling when an archaeologist or tomb-raider hits the jackpot.

I was intrigued when Junejo mentioned a darker aspect that she detects in the works, triggering another important consideration. Roland Barthes, in his seminal book titled Music Image Text (first published in 1977) attempted a literary and semiotic understanding of the cumulative Influence of photography, film and TV on late Capitalist society. A few decades later, In the heyday of Netflix and global structures of shared visuality, we are presented, most assuredly in this exhibition, with a fearless embrasure of the no-holds-barred scriptural and inscriptive powers of uncensored serials, the complete appropriation of graphic novels (Regress) and full-throttled dramaturgy. There are, of course, moments of calm, where troubled waters turn to seeming quietude (Midas Is Dead). Each of the works is an event in itself, each a well-formed statement providing ample evidence that Ujala Khan and M4HK have positioned themselves in the here and now with a mad, bad, dangerous-to-know and declarative passion for making individualistic art that matters.

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