A recent exhibition of two well established artists, Nurayah Sheikh and Rabeya Jalil, drew upon original reserves of personal struggles, discoveries and current issues. Their work imparts fresh and relevant messages, vivaciously explored yet the personal history included in each piece made the exhibition so much more than just ‘contemporary’ art. Even in their final resolved appearance upon exhibition, the art pieces transmit a certain suggestion of endless possibilities and growth.
Displayed at ArtChowk Gallery, both artists used the gallery space meticulously. Nurayah Sheikh’s work emerges from a gorgeous botanical network of mystery; woodcuts, bronze and textured papers are some of the media she used to create a subtle story. Claiming to work a little sporadically, the struggles she faced in bringing together this abundance of work is unnoticeable as content-wise her entire collection is much very continual. The glimmering dragonfly is possibly the focal area of all the compositions and we follow its journey into ever-evolving situations. Nurayah Sheikh’s art renditions a woman to be overwhelmingly transformative and selfless, her treatment allows her work and concepts to steer safely away from clichéd gender issues but it meanders into the embedded beauty of women.
The dragonfly in her various appearances is usually found fluttering in an atmosphere of living creatures; rustled branches and leaves, seeds of other organisms and insects. Her compelling existence in this world weaves the dragonfly with other inhabitants relinquishing herself to nurture whatever may come. Embracing strength and longevity, the pieces which use wood aestheticize the very poignant yet unmovable solidarity of a woman’s role in people’s lives. The wood cuts traverse into representations of the dragonfly seeking her own growth while entangling with her surroundings as pods and seeds submerge into branches and leaves. The dark richness of the wood gives off to the delicate slices chipped away and the imagery has a tamed forest feel to it. Her compositions have a biology visual with the use of symbols such as the womb and fertilization; it connects the viewer with the thought of the very basic instincts of a woman being so much more than just science and genetics.
With the bronze sculptures and spatial window framing/display, the work is quite interactive as it calls for the viewer to go around the pieces or to step in between them. To The Other Side I instilled with rejuvenation and movement and seems to breathe with life like coral reef constantly swishing with water. With titles from songs, the lyricism entwines with memory laced elements in Nurayah Sheikh’s work. Rabeya Jalil’s work is as well very much connected to our own experiences as an insider and an onlooker of her world and the changing phenomenas occurring around her. The title of the show When I Wake Up In The Morning…Seeds Scatter is a synopsis and a stitched link of two phrases from both the artists. While both their works speak of a different visual language, Rabeya Jalil’s work connotes upon multi facet aspects as well.
The prints and paintings translate from Rabeya Jalil’s everyday nuances and her absorption of society, normative happenings and unquestioned thoughts. The artist statement she provides us with is a direct dive into the content of her artwork yet there is so much more to elaborate on. Pieces such as Days in a Calender, But We Love Rain, and the paintings with the use of the cat endorse the artists’ personal struggles with a life in Pakistan and the life she experienced abroad while studying and working. These un-parallel worlds are a dichotomy in which Rabeya Jalil has found not just criticisms of the ignorance within society but an introspective with a completely honest outlook. This unbridled and truthful voice comes across naturally in the deliberate child-like drawings of the more painterly work she displays. The artist comments that “learning to think like a child is the hardest, most difficult thing’ as her work in education and art conceives her to have a sound understanding of what it is like for children to feel their way into an environment prophesized by pointless definitions. For instance, the simple widening of fingers when offering prayer is regarded unforgivingly sinful as compared to humanistic values of dedication, punctuality and respect for our surrounding environment.
Rabeya Jalil’s work conveys her to be a sensitive artist who embraces her personal narratives with generalized problems every viewer can relate or notice. Having lived a life abroad the artist spontaneously reacts to the simple yet prominent distinguishing factors between ‘us’ and ‘them’, however her diaspora does not allow her to feel at peace with either worlds. The range of soft pastels to bright cadmium hues in Rabeya Jalil’s work explores a child’s perspective on visual dynamics; her narratives though are related to a mature audience, with symbolic elements such as cigarettes, prayer topis, cats, and a janamaz, she touches upon everyday happenings which consistently digress the ethical system of our world. While her personality is strengthened in her work, the pieces provide the opportunity for viewers to conjure their own meaning. Water for instance is a visual memory of the artists’ yet the blatant text of the word water is impactful and yelps out the environmental transgress around the globe.
The two artists work together at the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture’s printmaking studio and it’s interesting how their pieces do not reflect off each other, yet they form a harmonious bond with a collective of concepts and imagery. ♦
When I Wake Up In The Morning…Seeds Scatter’ was on at Art Chowk, Karachi, from 16 April – 7 May 2014.
Veera Rustomji is a Fine Art student at the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture. She has been a freelance writer for the past two years and enjoys conducting research within the field of art