It is not something that is handed to you or something you attain over time. It is a something you are born with, in fact the only aspect of you that is forever and unquestionably yours; an embodiment of ideas and emotion, consolidated through senses, encapsulated by skin in its entirety. It is something entirely different when it is reflected in your work. For it is not a reflection of who you really are, even though the construct of this world is hell bent on proving so otherwise, staining history and the present with systemized brutality on mere skin.
The Skin We Live In commemorated its opening in Canvas on August 3rd of 2019, a collective show by Ahmed Ali Manganhar, Amna Rahman, Anusha Ramchand and Yaseen Khan.
When one sees Amna Rahman’s work, a wave of melancholy seems to grasp them, almost to an appeal. For it’s not just portraiture, but the almost life like character to which she paints that reflects her own emotions through the subject. It doesn’t aim to give you photographic excellence; instead it provides you character and sensitivity, her palette always leaning warm and dull. The subject’s eyes are staring at you, almost daring you to stare back, but not without having to face their “uninviting gaze.” It’s intimidating and unfortunate at the same time, peering into a representation of discomfort or hurt, but completely alienated from the subject matter itself.
Contrasting this work titled ‘The world Inside’ with her other body of work, ‘The world outside,’ includes realistic paintings of street dogs which set up an entirely new level of emotion and character on their faces and their fur bodies, contrasting facades versus the pure animalistic bluntness that is procured through being stray and non-human, something the artist’s other subjects fail to do, which then again is a byproduct of their flawed environment. The comparison becomes harshly apparent when looking at the eyes, the formers contained and melancholic, the latter’s exuberant and vicious.
At the end of the day, it’s not only the roughness of your exterior that vouches for experience, but also what resides inside. Stories mean something different when they have lived inside of you. Such is the case in Ahmad Ali Manganhar’s work. Capsulizing memory in slates, Ali depicts the one prevalent state of transience every walking sack of skin corroborates with. His portrayal of several experiential or historical chronicles, forever epitomized in a constricted tablet aims to not only reflect a state in time, but also in emotion. Each slate, mostly in diptych, has its own ardent feeling for the viewer to witness, as he plays with various themes be it spiritual, historical or something entirely intuitive. With strokes varying from thick to thin, and the apparent quality and color of the slate, altogether makes his work dull in color, giving it an almost grayish hue, complimenting his theme of timelessness and memories. His work does not aim to portray a narrative, but bring forth a sense of belonging to this one particular happenstance in time. The size of the work itself mirrors what a tablet with pictures would look like, bordered with white to immortalize the subject matter.
Belonging is one end of the line, pivoted by identity. Anusha Ramchand balances the theme of her work on the very same construct, using processes like lenticular printing or painting on fiber glass to depict what she considers a spectrum, afflicting us in everyday life. Her work revolves around reality versus how we develop social constructs of ourselves when affiliated with the mass social media, through which several ideas of superiority or inferiority are imposed, ironically not even founded on our real selves. She uses various emojis as the replaced widely form of language, manipulated images on light boxes, or made works like ‘Identity Spectrum’ that portray one person in several different brew shades, her work mostly glossy or bright, imitating social media’s glorification of fake beings.
Amidst this melting pot of cultural conglomeration evident around us, Yaseen Khan has revived the technique of Chamak Patti, reinventing it for contextual worth. The process has been inspired by his long involvement in chamak Patti, when he used to work on painting buses to detail in the same manner. Looking at the work, one would simply be in an ever-growing state of postulation; it’s ineffable or uneasy comprehension causing a barrier, which was the exact intention of the artist. Yaseen, having faced problems in communication and language throughout his life, wanted viewers to face the same circumstance. It’s practically visual noise, using a wide range of colors in his work, some of the pieces even close to mimicking static screens, the abstract quality of which leave the viewers in a state of awe and confusion.