When artists venture into written poetry or literature, we can’t help but wonder and question, what is the real difference between the writer and artist? Should there necessarily even be a decipherable contrast from both practices?
In the academic curriculums of art schools there is (an ever increasing) emphasis on analytical thought and written theory to the generation of work. Today, there is a cohort of textual scholars and academics who continue to produce visual art and intermediate between audiences who read, observe and imagine. It is interesting to note how artists who hail from, and have strong roots with their region integrate their native language and personal journeys from written text. There is after all, no obvious way to interpret literature and poetry – each artist will choose their own route.
Within the exhibition ‘Solitude’ curated by Salima Hashmi at Koel Gallery, Karachi, a small group of diverse artists brought about their personal histories and linguistic explorations into their work. The curatorial note draws upon the need for the artist to recluse into themselves and speak the truth behind their creative inquiries and conversations between their mind, heart and soul;
‘As the tumult around us becomes increasingly invasive, the search for a sanctum becomes imperative. We seek solace in talking to ourselves. The heart is our companion, a collaborator in these inner conversations.’ An excerpt from Salima Hashmi’s curatorial note.
Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s poem, ‘Tanhai’ provided the participating artists with a backdrop to the concerns of the curated exhibition. Tanhai the exhibition, looks at the bleakness yet the hopefulness of solitude. In all the works, imagination and research happily cohabitate as the artists explore their own voices without finding distinctive answers or rationale to compensate for the borderless narratives.
Participating artist Natasha Malik seems to have integrated the visuals generated from Tanhai as a poem into her water color paintings. Ghostly white hands glimmer in a midnight blue sky while a dusty set of rib cages dance above. Faiz’s word are echoed: ‘Night has declined, the cloud of stars has begun to scatter; in the halls the sleepy lamps have begun to waver.’
Titled ‘The Intangible Body’ the separation of hands and the skeleton in Malik’s painting, feels as a deliberate dismembering of the body; the body isn’t at whole and this perturbing segregation is followed in the artist’s video projected into silhouettes of two gravestones. Two eyes converse with each other silently as the glance, blink and dart off in multiple directions across the gravestones. The two pieces are strangely eerie yet soft and mystical with the usage of haunting blue hues trickling throughout her work.
With Wardha Shabbir’s work, her linear depiction of foliage and leaves create an impact visually because of the specific hues of green and yellow – both complimenting and contrasting. The leaves in her paintings appear distinct from each other, and could be viewed as individual lives clustered together against the contrasting yellow wall of the gallery. Shabbir perceives ‘Tanhai’ the poem as imagined path human life can take in the gardens of paradise – noting that the abundance of greenery is an unmistaken aspect associated with the satisfaction of the soul. Feelings of isolation transform into ‘the journey to find oneself and discover or forge a connection between the human and the divine.’
Malcolm Hutcheson is another artist who utilizes the human body as a form to represent isolation and vulnerability. The photographer brings forth his documentation on transgender community members of Lahore using ‘Ruh Kitch’ photography…’ruh’ as in ‘rooh’ which translates to spirit and ‘kitch’ would be referred to as the act of taking or pulling. In the photographer’s own words he defines this practice as a reference ‘to the way the photographer puts his hand inside the camera and pulls out the photograph. The secret of this magical process is inside the camera which is just large enough to contain two trays of chemicals. This mini darkroom on legs allows an image to be shot and processed within two minutes. The first step produces a negative on photographic paper. This is then re-photographed to create a positive likeness.’
Hutcheson’s photographs are stunningly saturated in monotones with the subjects looking both into and away from the camera causing the viewers to wonder about the kind of direction given by Hutcheson to the photographed subjects. These photographs were taken from 2009 to 2010 and they look into the segregation of a community from society and understanding how certain connotations about minority communities detach the face or the physical person from the issues they have to overcome. These intimate photographs almost seem to portray the women as actors during backstage time – downtime before a scene or just being at ease with themselves before they venture out to face the difficulties of the life they have to endure.
Shaheera Aslam also contributed black and white photographs to the ‘Tanhai’ exhibition; focusing on corners of dusty living quarters covered in cobwebs, her pictures are indeed very different from Hutcheson’s. Rather than the crisp outlines of Hutcheson’s figures, Aslam shows fuzzy and hazy textures that create a certain claustrophobia in the forgotten rooms she photographs. Although empty, there is still so much resonance of human life that once existed in these spaces. Some images are referred to as ‘Buni Hui Khamoshi’ by the artist and show papers, notebooks, shelves engulfed in cobwebs and dirt – making it difficult for the viewer to see what truly remained behind.
In keeping with the leftovers of human life, Shah Abdullah Alamee studies the ‘Meher Garh’ civilization whose archaeological remains are found close to his hometown in Quetta. A forgotten habitat such as Meher Garh questions our ideas and preconceived notions of empires and their reign of occupation. As Alamee describes in his artist statement, the novel aspect of this particular society was its’ matriarchal dominance and the lack of instruments of defense or war-fare used by this long gone population. Rather than using the Meher Garh civilization as an example of a peaceful community, Alamee compares the struggles minorities have to encounter today to pre-historic times where perhaps the dynamics of discrimination were very different under. Delicate whorls of cloth depict a pattern of turbans looming over in layers while a handful of coral orange fish escape from underneath the shadows. Although elegantly drawn, the shapes of cloth could be anything from distorted shrouds to stormy clouds to even embalmed bodies. The utilization of a skill or technique to blur the lines of story is employed by Abid Aslam as well in his transcription of Faiz’s poem. By creating textured surfaces with a punching machine, Aslam aims to reverse the meaning of ‘tanhai’. The letters left ambiguous and the collection of dots to depict a pattern of an animal walking alongside a candle allowing the viewers to revisit Faiz’s poem once again. One thinks of the phrases and words ‘traces of footsteps’, ‘alien dust’ and candles which echo in the grey wasli of the piece titled ‘Aestheticisim’ by Aslam. Alamee and Aslam both suggest that the feeling or the image of loneliness can be interpreted in multiple ways and hence their images are not restricted to convey a single journey of struggle and hardship.