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The unbearable lightness of being and the weight of the wait

Prolific artist Nausheen Saeeds exhibition at the Canvas gallery furthered the artist existing preoccupation with the body. The luminous polyester resin forms, sturdy as they were bearing likeness to human torsos and headless bodies had a certain transcendence to them, perhaps owing to their hollowness and shapes which resembled rotund polythene bags, full in form but light in their being. The full-bodied larger pieces mounted on the wall especially, seeming to be swept away courtesy of their plastic bag like handles and horizontal positioning. Each of the translucent pieces reminiscent of the skin shedding that results from molting during life cycles of insect species: Perhaps a metamorphosis of sorts or an intersection between soul and body.
Working with the human form is not always the easiest thing and women artists dealing with the body are often pigeonholed, buried under the weight of feminist underpinnings. Viewing the work through such myopic lenses renders its impact limited-Being Pakistani only adding to the predicament, feeding orientalist fixations with restricted women roles as pertaining to artists hailing from the East. The Muslim woman as the proverbial fairytale damsel in distress, oppressed in her home in the East and then marginalized in her role by the West may be a theme explored by some, while others employ more latent tropes to elucidate the complexities that come under the umbrella of identity. Feminism is a loaded word, laden with symbolism but it also incites the danger of the art being reduced to just that explanation.
Navigating Nausheens work on the other hand requires the same sensitivity that the artist uses to create the layered pieces. To provide a broader prelude to the works, although the figurative element is mostly consistent, there is continual evolution, reinvention and experimentation as Saeed constantly brings something new to into her aesthetics with her varied treatment and dexterous use of material. Whatever the medium may be, bread, concrete, wood, fiberglass or fabric, Saeed handles it with panache and grace, working in tandem with her choices, often letting the materials drive the process.
Although the artists earlier works, the fabric clad luggage pieces or even the milk cans, brazen and clever as they were may have called for singular readings, there is a certain spirituality about her current exhibit and the allusions much more covert-The inherent lyrical quality rendering the works ethereal and poignant.
Perusing through some of the text that has stemmed from Saeeds works and their contexts however, there has been a sensationalizing of the artists subjects that makes me want to stay shy of overt feminist undertones- particularly in regard to her comment that pointed at men as the crux of some of societys problems (published in her interview with the Hindustan Times). Stirring quite a debate on the cyber plane, I feel the artists words and affiliations may have been blown out of proportion undermining the poetry in Saeeds work. I stumbled upon many blogs that used the comment as fodder, brewing singular frameworks while highlighting the words and singling them out from the more sublime trajectories as explored by Saeed. Such reductionist, totalizing and over simplified impressions lead one to believe that the work is stagnant. Male/female, confinement/freedom, weight/lightness, how simple things would be if lofty ideas could be reduced to binary oppositions. Indeed feminism creeps into the larger discourse, as does biography but there is more to the dialogue.
Nausheens command over the materials she employs and the ingenuity of her ideas brings to mind another proficient contemporary artist, Janine Antoni who has also like Saeed worked with a plethora of materials, implementing them just as masterfully. What first lead me to draw comparisons was both the artists use of soap to create figurative forms, with the latters creation having a secondary performative aspect to them involving her having to bathe with a bust of her own portrait made entirely of soap, Lick and Lather (1993).Antoni too explores innuendos having to do with materiality and femininity whilst using as body as a metaphor for her ideas.
There is beautiful vulnerability in Saeeds pieces but also great strength; she talks about a world fraught with turmoil but also about resilience. Her women,diminutive and repressed they may appear, also assert their forms, boldly interacting with the spaces they are confined within. More than feminism the work is about femininity and tropes that seem to address commoditization of women may just as easily eschew the same and talk of transcending quite literally the baggage of stereotypical women roles. Be it in the form of cumbersome luggage or as disposable plastic bags, playthings of the wind. The disposability perhaps even having to do with immunization in the wake constant impending doom and the normalization towards violence that transpires.
Be it her earlier sculptural arrangements created with furniture or her figurative installations, Saeeds extensive oeuvre never ceases to impress. Nausheen clearly is no one trick pony. Her wide-ranging vocabulary of ideas and craftsmanship speak of a world enmeshed between violence, religion, gender and politics. A brave, seasoned artist with an individual voice and unique vocabulory, Saeeds audacious yet cathartic pieces never fall short of telling it like it is

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