In eastern cultures manuscripts have always been treated as a significant heritage due to their role as a key element in political and cultural communications. Ornamented texts paired with meticulously detailed miniature paintings not only earned regional emperors appreciation and awe, it also earned them reverence that aided them significantly in their political ambitions, thus planting the tradition of beautifully crafted cordial communication for meaningful dialogue. Aisha Abid’s work is an investigation of that heritage and its use in modern day lifestyle. Her medium and content lends heavily from regional traditional use of text in art, however her visual oeuvre reflects post-modern sensibility. She is one of the very few contemporary Pakistani artists who work around the notion of love and after a decade of consistent exploration, it has become her signature to delve into complex social and personal connotations surrounding individual and collective relationships.
Her solo show Part I: Disruption of Language opened at AAN Gandhara Art Space in Karachi on 27th March, 2018. It showcases seven artworks that are continuation of her previous solo held in Delhi two years ago. Using letters from her family archives, she composes random and comprehendible texts on Vasli tablets to depict the importance of sincerely thought out communication while simultaneously highlighting the tension in a relationship and the role each word plays in those narratives. Her work appears very personal at first glance, though it takes a political form with every repeated word. It cherishes the sentimental and cultural value that these words held and how their diminishing from the contemporary society is not just decline of linguistic heritage, but of social values. Faqt Tumhara seems like an eager intimate expression of devotion and longing. Repeated in a disciplined, orchestrated manner it almost seems like a deceptive statement that needs to be repeated over and over to retain its impression of being truthful. The repetition lends a political tone to the body of work in a country where empty promises and fake news have shaped the political landscape for decades and have influenced masses despite their obvious shallowness. For those who have the manuals to use these words appropriately, influence is but a play of words.
The juxtaposition of comprehendible words against randomly placed letters create a flawed narration that plants more questions than answers in viewers’ minds. On a closer look, these pieces with pairing of contrasting vocabulary have an air of doubt and tension. In Bilingual Love II, where lines of unreadable text appear scarcely amidst comprehendible words, the surface becomes a subtly fabricated narration. Whereas, in Bilingual Love III, the truth and fabrication exists side by side, questioning the authenticity of both and neither. The duplicity created in the meaning of these words due to their contextual placement or lack thereof is unsettling.
3D Vasli books expand on this satirical critique of words and their usage by hiding the words altogether. Many Layers of Erased History is an installation of scores of Vasli books that cannot be opened or read. With hints of writing in columns showing through the sides, they tempt the viewer to read the books. Their pages are glued and the treatment of the paper has erased the text. The hidden text prevents the viewer from accessing a part of truth, as if knowing the truth is forbidden. The amount of hidden text shows the extent of loss of unimaginable value. The readable surfaces displayed on the wall appear simple and easily comprehendible but leave the viewer in a state of disbelief, wondering why they are granted such easy access. The ease of access makes them look programmed and dubious, thus making the viewer question as to whether these simple texts have simple meanings or if these are tests of observation and intellect.
Aisha Abid’s work is an inquiry into the manifestation of societal changes during last few decades using linguistic patterns and their perception by the viewers’ as means to portray the comparison between old and new. She plans to further her investigation into the phenomenon and will be displaying her findings later this year in two group shows internationally.