Faiza Butt’s show at Canvas Gallery titled ‘The Image of an Image’ is a cultural documentation on society, each piece, a visual representation of different aspects, overlapping, twisting and turning, from the simplicity of an image intertwined with the complexity of a chain of thoughts.
Her series Vortex, acrylic glaze on paper, to the immediate eye looks like handcuffs and various means of shackles but upon closer inspection one discovers bones, chew toys and animal collars framing swords and pliers. It is perhaps an extension of association with the rabid-looking dogs that feature in her other displayed works. The flat rendering of the objects portrayed along with the repetitive formation of a pattern can be viewed as a statement on how society tends to engulf its inhabitants in a certain mindset or situation. The artist may be looking at how as individuals we are trained to adapt and accept our socio-political conditioning.
Her art commemorates the existence of a culture so vast, expressing beliefs and taboos, defining identities and merging real-world observations with ideal social expectations. The One series triptych consists of digital drawings on duratrans (a color transparency material) mounted on light boxes. Glossy red lips with a diamanté encrusted ‘Allah’ pendant held provocatively between them in three similar poses seem to channel society’s extravagant and superficial outlook on religion. Much like images for commercial purposes, it seems to focus on the bold use of aesthetic and how on many levels religion has become a possession rather than a spiritual mode of being.
The imagery in Everyday Like Today is very similar to the non-conformist Soviet art work featured at the Haunch of Venison in April 2010 which looked at how artists challenged the social and political in the 1980s and the legacies that remain today. Homosexuality has been a topic that only a few Pakistani artists have strayed upon in various undertones. The image of two grown men embraced in a kiss may seem easier to digest mainly because of their western tuxes, an outcome of media desensitization. It may also stem from the artist’s own personal views, her own association with two vastly different cultures and their own norms.
In Pehlwan 5, a boxer surrounded by Nike running shoes, milk containers, bears, tigers and dogs, the collection of objects and animals is enough to throw one completely off track. Standing in front of it, one wonders what the artist was trying to convey — is it a personal narrative? Is the viewer supposed to connect the dots to happen upon a deeper understanding or is the work meant to deceive you into thinking that an amalgamation of imagery must portray a deeper connotation? Perhaps the superfluous use of images denotes a certain subconscious, where memories and past experiences come forth as a pretentious visual.
From fruit trifles to cricketers, Does our past have a future? features imagery that the viewer can instantly relate to. The young protester in the center with bands of white and green around her wrist shows a certain dimension of society to which we have all grown accustomed. From politically geared situations to sports fanaticism, each image allows an almost comforting sense of association to build.
A scanned collage of bejeweled eyes featuring the world globe as an iris is an untitled piece featured in the exhibition; one can extract various interpretations, one of them being looking at the complex relationship between materialism and its effect on how individuals assess their surroundings.
Butt’s work engages the viewer, inspires conversations and maybe even provokes debates. The imagery is focused on eliciting a cognitive response, which then the viewer translates based on the notions of familiarity. The artist, who is London-based, is still in tune with the constantly evolving social landscape of her homeland and explores its many facets in her current and upcoming works. She will be exhibiting next at a three-person show featuring Rashid Rana and Suboodh Gupta at the Leila Heller Gallery in New York, followed by a solo exhibition at Rossi & Rossi, London, and is also working towards her first UK public show.
Related article: Faiza Butt: We can only live because we imagine that we are infinite
‘The Image of an Image’ ran at Canvas Gallery, Karachi, from 6-14 August 2014.
Aniqa Imran graduated from Indus Valley in 2012 with a Bachelor’s in Fine Art and is currently working for the Foundation for Museum of Modern Art in Karachi.