The Presence of Absence

The walls of the gallery at the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture are painted to resemble a container’s façade. Nothing frames the exhibit.

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The walls of the gallery at the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture are painted to resemble a container’s façade. Nothing frames the exhibit. It cannot be earmarked by red dots. There is no navigation around it. The display cannot be divided. It is seen in one sudden instance and then it can’t be unseen. The Wall is almost humorous. Almost. Seher Naveed’s solo exhibit at Karachi’s most prestigious art institute’s in-house gallery would have been humour-laden had it not been so important. It’s bemused, satirical too, however the show is too heavily laden with a sense of deliberate absence to be funny.

The Wall leads you into a room of reasonable doubt. A room that is defiantly bare. There is nothing on offer. The monotony of the green and gray stripes in the gallery’s interior is all that the show constitutes of. It dares to question and refuses to stay within the pre-marked space that conforms to popular notions of sellable and hence, good art.

The exhibit is such a strong expression of artistic free will that it does not bother with meek reaffirmations of skill sets or displays of craftsmanship that seek reassurance. The artist is taking her right to create. She does not need to answer for her creative process. In fact, she questions the confines of art practice in Pakistan’s urban landscape. A space that is tethered to a context that offers enough discord and friction to make for a very fertile creative breeding ground. A space where creative output, however, remains a barricaded process. She is commenting on the tricky navigation in and around the templates on offer. A grid governed largely by gallery prerequisites, the politics that govern art establishments and seeps in art education and the unsaid commercial viability of work produced in an industry bordering on being buyer driven. She ends up off the grid, in an exploratory territory.

The container’s use as the visual resonates symbolically with Naveed’s experience of charting her hometown’s trajectory. The image is a tactile translation of the show’s subconscious. The artist lives and works in Karachi, a city that is breathtaking in its enormity but marked by claustrophobic enclosures. Containers both restrict and create zones within which the residents circumambulate. The sense of ownership of a space is restricted to zones, creating a strict sense of authority decided by the city itself. Expression of being home is within the container’s maps.

The fact that the show is exhibited in a space that literally makes for the foundation of the city’s premier art institute cements The Wall together. The site adds to the show’s assertion of art for art’s sake.

Seher Naveed: The Wall ran at IVS Gallery from 21-28 January 2015. Images courtesy IVS Gallery.

Amna Iqbal is a Graphic designer and a Visual Journalist. She was heading the creative department at the Express Tribune from 2009-2014 and currently teaches at The Indus Valley School of art and architecture. She is a freelancer writer on culture and art for various publications.