The Very Silent Stories

‘Chup Kahani’ when translated simply means “Silent Stories”. Stories is an interesting word, because I don’t believe that that one can take as much as

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‘Chup Kahani’ when translated simply means “Silent Stories”. Stories is an interesting word, because I don’t believe that that one can take as much as a single step without seeing some story being played out around them. And it is equally unlikely that you are not part of some story yourself.

Everyone has a story, in fact multiple stories, and in each one of them, they are either the hero or the villain, a side character or simply an extra. What we had in Sanat with Zahid Mayo’s work is a man who has been able to find these very silent stories, of these characters that are around us all the time and put them up on a canvas.

What is depicted and comes forward in his work are the regularities around you, whose constant presence yield them the status of silent constants that don’t demand much of our attention. For the constants themselves, they are moments that have been captured from their lives, highlighting the cruel joke that life can be at times.

Certain things stand out; the work either contains portraits, or crowds whose strength remains in their lack of individuality, and then there is sacrifice and blood, in all its grotesqueness. The first category of work, the portraits, include The Jokers, Siaah Posh and Khuli Band Aankhain, which relate to each other in many ways.

Firstly there is the subject itself, detail oriented in terms of features, the emotions, the body language and the spirit of that moment, which Zahid has captured with utmost precision. The eyes of a boy in handcuffs in Siaah Posh, dark and black, leave no room for imagination as to what he might be thinking, as he looks right at you. His is a gaze that you can’t seem to lose, no matter where you move, much like the undeniable truth about an unjust world that you can’t shake off.

In Jokers, the laughter of the garbage boy, as he picks up an “adult” magazine, the joy that the contents must have given to a young boy cannot be more telling. Here you have the innocence of a child, so clearly depicted on a canvas, that it is absurd that one has not noticed such a thing. The greatness of the work lies in the simplicity of the story it tells.

Bay Naam, from the portrait category of his work, contains a young boy as the subject matter, is all a blur and taps on the idea of anonymity. The image is not sharp, for he is nameless; there is a distinguishable form, a silhouette of a child, but the eyes, the face, can’t be made out. He can be anyone, an extra who one doesn’t notice in a story line. Shab-e-Juma is the epitome of this category, a crowd, haunted faces, faces all around, many people, many stories, but none of them stand out.

The most remarkable piece from the blood/grotesque category remains Qurbani Kis Ki? – a yellow background in which the artist seems to have captured the “sacrificial” scenario, with strokes made by simple lines. Black lines splurged as if in a frenzy to create forms that capture the intensity, but more importantly make the grotesqueness an abstraction within these lines that do not adhere to details – a quality that one can truly appreciate in a scene about slaughter/sacrifice.

It seems however that Zahid’s first love is calligraphy, and therefore it is not surprising to see a calligraphic piece in the middle of the exhibition space, related to his opening night performance. His education in calligraphy is rooted in his primary education, and gives evidence that he is one of rare specimen of men who always knew what they were suppose to do in life. The calligraphic piece, though not part of the main body of his work, is his beginning, his first step in the world of art it seems, and one that the artist is not ready to let go for the sake of sticking with a theme, even if it stands out like a sore thumb.

If you have ever taken a moment to notice the world around you, with all its injustices, then you would have no trouble connecting with the work. Here you have the heroes and the merely players. But they are unusual subjects no doubt, for garbage picker boys, a juvenile, and a naked boy on the bike are not the subject of great works, not unless you are the subject matter of Charles Dickens or Shaukat Siddiqui. But I guess the world needs to prepare itself to add another name to the list. But that only time will determine.

‘Chup Khahani: Works by Zahid Mayo’, Sanat Initiative, Karachi, 11-21 September 2013. Images courtesy Sanat Initiative.

Varda Nisar is a researcher, curator, and director of the Karachi Children’s Art Fest.


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