ArtNow presented the Art Section at the 2015 Karachi Literature Festival, featuring ‘Speaking in Tongues’, an exhibition curated by Amin Gulgee and Zarmeené Shah.
Speaking in Tongues or glossolalia is medically defined as a profuse and emotionally charged speech that mimics coherent speech but is usually unintelligible to the listener and that is uttered in states of religious ecstasy and in some schizophrenic states.
Arising through an organic curatorial process, Speaking in Tongues evolved out of DREAMSCAPE, also curated by Gulgee and Shah in December 2014 at the Amin Gulgee Gallery in Karachi. This exhibition, mounted specifically for the Karachi Literature Festival, re-contextualizes the premise of that reverie in a more meditative setting allowing for newer narratives to emerge and interweave.
Speaking in Tongues echoes the structure of a dream, where the familiar becomes unfamiliar, and the tangible intangible. One of the dialogues that emerges is the concept of the home subverted. Tables are littered with forgotten personal images; empty armchairs sit under an American real estate advertisement emblazoned with the phrase “Welcome Home” in Urdu; a cow’s heart is offered up on a plate beneath a clock that runs anti-clockwise.
Absence is another prominent thematic which expresses itself through chairs mounted on a wall, indicating invisible spectators staring into the floor; to vanishing bodies suggested by two pairs of men’s underwear hanging side by side; to a stuffed pair of jeans and shoes, their laces neatly tied, perched upon a gilded chair. The theme of absence and desire is also echoed in a body cast of an artist created out of cake, which is eaten, piece by piece, by the audience until it finally disappears.
Absence and home naturally connect to the idea of memory and loss. A 35 mm film flickers with black and white images of a distant cityscape; a TV set from the 1960s plays a nostalgic selection of fondly remembered Pakistani programs; and a bioscope, an invention popular at rural fairs in the subcontinent of the late 19th century, draws the viewer into a fantastical world from another time. The feeling of loss is also reflected in a white wall violently bleeding with red roses of yarn; in a long plank upon which photographic portraits of school children in uniform stand and stare; and a monumental psychedelic skull created out of copper wire.
This exhibition of installation, new media and sculptural works by 25 national artists, through its curatorial and spatial considerations and framework, attempts to create intimate spaces within the show that allow for an unlikely dialogue between individual works. These internal dialogues connect to a larger polemic that questions the times we live in and our perceptions within it.
Text by Zarmeené Shah.
Photos courtesy of Jamal Ashiqain.
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