Khaas Gallery recently showcased the works of two young artists, Imrana Tanveer and Yasir Azeem. At first glance the works seem quite opposite to one another, and it whets one’s curiosity to try and discover how these two artists complement or contradict one another under the single title of ‘Things That Appear’.
Social commentary and the search for personal and national identity is a theme common to both artists, although in execution, they couldn’t be more dissimilar. Tanveer, with her background in textiles, uses the medium of weaving to give complexity and meaning to digital prints. She first constructs the image, then in shredding it deconstructs; the final stage of reconstruction brings new meaning to the original image, with the warp and weft of her weaving representing how society and personal context can be transmuted into personal identity.
The art and practices of traditional weaving are important for Tanveer, and they run congruent with her understanding of society. Weavers in traditional societies never undid mistakes in their work, and stories and clan insignia were woven into fabric: “whenever I weave and there is a mistake I never undo even if I try to undo or correct it, it becomes more complex and chaotic. And this is how exactly we are dealing with the system and the society we build and live in,” remarks Tanveer. The same way mistakes, and indeed almost any event, on a national and on a personal level, become a part of the fabric of our identity.
In her piece Black Dog White Dog, Tanveer uses a subversive wit to make a statement about the polity of Pakistan, or even the state of politics the world over. In context, the symbol of the dog is one of derision, as to call someone a dog “Kutta” is a common term of abuse in Pakistan. She further muses that the dog represents the attributes of someone who is “ruthless and always fighting.” This we can see in the work, as the two dogs, crowns perched upon their heads, stand facing back to back; obstinate to the last. Furthermore, Tanveer has cited Animal Farm as one of her inspirations for this piece, and the dog’s role as an enforcer of tyranny is further amalgamated. Tanveer’s political concepts are subtly applied, yet easily read in her work; she uses symbols to communicate in her woven imagery, just as the women of old used to weave their clan marks into rugs as means of authorship. And just as shamans and wise women of old used to weave prayers and curses into fabric, perhaps Tanveer is weaving her hopes for change into her imagery also.
Yasir Azeem’s work is slightly more elusive, and more conceptual in nature. Azeem uses wax as a medium, which adds a textural quality to his imagery, and the deep red color of the wax is very provocative. Upon first looking at hisUntitled Expression, a dark gridded backdrop punctuated by red wax stamps, I was reminded of gunshot wounds and while Azeem assures me that I am free to interpret the work in this way, his intent was not of such violence. “This piece of art is a question mark for national or international events which leads this world to question our identity,” Azeem says. “From a distance you see a whole image – as you see gunshot wounds – but when you come close to this art work you will find the so many visuals which invites the viewer to co relate with their personal life experiences.” Similarly his mixed media Diptych asks the viewer to relate their personal life experience to the art. A shirt and tie, versus a kameez shalwar, both sans the body wearing them, leaves room for viewers to choose who these garments belong to.
Both artists’ work invites closer inspection. These are not images to stand back and purvey, but ones to look deeply into, to find the meaning in the details. The seeming disparity between the two artists’ imagery disappears when one comes closer to their work, and sees, as the title requests, the Things That Appear.
Cosima Brand is an editor and writer living in Pakistan