Author: Quddus Mirza | Publication: Encore - (p.32) | Dated: 4 Nov 2012
Can lace life is a haunts and is a compeering one. Drawing inspiration, imagery and content from life art, in some cases, does become a substitute of life. Artists also find it hard to maintain the fine but difficult balance between their choices -in life and art.
One of these areas is that of sexual choice. Like politics, profession and faith, people in a society must have the freedom to pick their preferred manner in matters of love, but they are not allowed to do so. The state asserts its dominance in every aspect of life. In traditional societies, individuals can’t change their religion, are forbidden from ending their lives (suicide is a crime besides being a sin) or picking their sexual partners.
Hence, any deviation from ‘regularity is discouraged and even penalised both by the state through regulations and the public in the form of its opinion. Humans, nonetheless, follow their course despite all resistance till their opponents recognise their behaviour and come to terms with it.
Homosexuality has been castigated both in the scriptures and the laws across the world. Paradoxically, it has continued to exist in all cultures, whether sanctioned or not. It was only in the latter half of the twentieth century that a number of countries legalised same-sex marriages. Before that, it was regarded an abuse of the laws of nature and decrees of God.
A regular feature of all cultures, homosexuality has always been very much a part of art and poetry too. Anwar Saeed’s art is focusing on this dimension of life. In his work, male figure are in contact with each other in situations which delineate sensuousness; the emphasis is on body and prominence of certain organs.
In his most recent paintings,(to be shown from Nov 6 – 14, 2012 at Chawkandi Art, Karachi) one sees a shift in the artist’s position. In these canvases, men standing next to each other and under fish or gun do not seem too conscious of their sexuality; in fact they are at ease with each other. Only if a viewer is aware of the background of Saeed’s art will he be able to deduce the real content or essence of the work. To an uninitiated eye, the latest work would look like any other figure composition.
In these works, two men on their own or in the presence of a third person, are engaged in ‘normal’ acts – like holding hands, sharing an umbrella, facing each other, or competing in their physical strength. In one painting, an individual happily receives and accepts the pointed gun to his chest by another man. All of these can still be seen devoid of the sexual content which would be a misreading of his work.
Only by tracing the history of the artist and his work does one come to know that the sexual element, which obviously is different from the permitted principles of society, is not an overt subject in his work. On the other hand, it serves as a foundation on which other narratives are established. Hence, when two people are standing closely or looking at each other or pushing a single metal rode between them, one reads the inherent text that discloses the complexities of sexual relationship of a sort. Yet, it is not limited to one understanding of the work; the work is also about memories, dreams, desires and everything nocturnal or all that exists in the recesses of our minds.
This quality of transporting reality into the realm of dreams is not peculiar to Anwar’s art. But, considering his concerns, one understands that this transposition suits his subject most. What we see in front of us takes place in actuality but more than that in the world of imagination and unconsciousness (a reading enhanced by the use of shades of blue and purple).
However, in his recent paintings ‘Temporary Sensations I’ and ‘Temporary Sensations II’, the artist has chosen daylight which immediately moves the visuals away from the land of fantasy and places them in the physical world. The reality is enforced with almost life-size figures and their manner of posing in front of a camera. An important feature of these two recent works is the presence of human beings. Looking at the painting, one feels and fears that the two characters are about to emerge out of the surface/canvas. This confrontational quality in the work is not only a formal triumph – managing to successfully substitute reality with image – it indicates a shift in the artist’s views about his concepts, concerns and practices.
May be, now the artist is more open about his subject and treats it like a normal and natural entity. One does find the reference to gun and fish which can lead to notions of sexuality and violence (since there is inherent violence in sexuality and vice versa!) but, more than that, the new work appears to be dealing with complex issues of memory, reconstruction of reality (which is remarkable in the two recent canvases) and the craft of painting. One is reminded of something Salman Rushdie writes in his memoir Joseph Anton: “Could art, fuelled by love, transcend death? Or must death, in spite of art, inevitably consume love? Or perhaps art, meditating on love and death, could become greater than them both”.
The quality of transporting reality into the realm of dreams is not peculiar to Anwar’s art. But, considering his concerns, one understands that this transposition suits his subject most.