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The Identity Crisis: A showcase of Akram Dost Baloch’s work

The brilliance of an artwork lies firstly in the distinction given to it by the artist, and secondly in the fact that the distinction is not made perceptible to the viewer due to utter stagnation of the body of work. The process of evolution should remain a part of the growth of the artist without losing the essence that makes him stand out.
Such a description should suffice for the definition of an “artist” in a world where the word is thrown around rather casually.
To see Akram Dost’s work is to see and witness the history of an entire province through the eye of a man that is rooted in every way in his birth place of Balochistan. His new body of work currently on exhibition at the Satrang Gallery in Islamabad is a testament to his love and feelings for this troubled land.
The show that has been masterfully curated is comprised of 33 pieces divided into three different distinct bodies of work, starting off with small size canvases. These introduce you to the style that is truly Akram’s own. You walk from canvas to canvas and you see a narrative building up. The usual characteristics are all there – dominating every work is the face, undoubtedly a character with its own backstory; the turban, the angular noses and the thick brows point to the region where these faces come from; and lastly there is the mesh or a veil, depending on the vantage point that you have. The mesh for me remains the most interesting feature of Akram’s work – it has the power to bind a character within it; there is a strength that the thread holds.
There is also a third element within that mesh. You can see weaved within it undistinguishable, nameless faces – all made to be part of his compositions, in contrast to the reality that we witness around us.
As we move along, the characters seem to be eloquently embodied within frames signifying the links to his land. These frames all provide linkages, symbols and hints to the rich and diverse culture of his land. However, the theme becomes painfully obvious – in Akram’s work, you can’t escape the grim reality of his land. While with TV or any other form of information, you can turn it off or wait for the news cycle to revise, what you have here is a living document of his reality.
Bringing one to the second part of the show, the eye is made to move from the canvas to the wood reliefs. Holding true all the characteristics of his work, the pieces hint on the anonymity of his characters fixated in settings that are reminiscent of his land.
And then comes the third phase – which holds the true brilliance of this artist. Despite the fact that all the characteristics are there which we have already discussed above, this part of the work points towards the artist’s experimentation. It hints to the need for the artist to discover ways to develop his own self all the while remaining true to his purpose.
At this point I would urge you to take a break from reading this and just see the land from where Akram comes from. Open up Google map and simply type in Balochistan and look and observe the colors that make him the artist that he is. The browns, the ochre, the greens, the blues – those are all you see on the map and that is all you would see on these canvases. It is this which makes you realize the depth of Akram’s work, of how far he has dwelled with the concept of bringing the message of his land to the forefront – so much so that there isn’t a single aspect of his work that doesn’t embody his land. The figures in these works shroud themselves with the landscape, reflected and literally mirrored on their selves.
By the time you hit the last of the works, either your brain has decided to trick you or you can’t help but find a ray of hope in this sad reality that surrounds you. This trick or hope comes in the form of a subtle smile on the lips and eyes of the character.
This brings me to the final dilemma that one faces when talking about Akram’s work – you can’t single it out! With all the works titled “Untitled”, his work is just as nameless as the ocean of people missing from his homeland. In Akram’s work, you are forced to the whole body of work in its totality, you have to talk about it and understand it holistically. You can’ pick one and say that this work stood out for me; the artist makes it impossible for you to do just that. So you are left with no choice but to look at every single work, to be aware and conscious of the world around you and all that is happening in it, and then take in all of it, every piece of it.
There has long been an accusation against art and artists that it is elitist, that it alienates the masses, addressing only a certain class. But that claim falls completely untrue when looking at Akram’s work for it holds within itself the story of his land. All that is required is the receptivity to empathize with the landscape and the characters that speak out from his canvases.
The work is on display till the 20th of February.

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