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Exploding Roots

Author: Marjorie Husain      Publications: The Review - (p.14)      Dated: 3 Sept 1997

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Like frothy jets of life-sustaining milk from the udder of a cow, blood gushes from a severed tube nourishing the subterranean fertility of a parched, arid landscape. Tenacious roots, spread above the surface, are entangled in an impenetrable circle encircling organic matter, pipes ending in a deadly exterior sharp with thorns. Gothic plant-life grows in a tough terrain bearing fragmented references to the machinery of the human body. Dominating nature while absorbing earth, stone and oxygen.

Samina Mansuri is a complex, cerebral artist with the courage to strip the cosmetic facade from the subject she analyses. In earlier paintings, misshapen fruit appeared as a symbol of painful fertility. Pomegranates and custard apples, grotesquely swollen with seeds in the life-death cycle of existence combined the potential of new life with over-ripe flesh. Transcending trends of feminist expression, Saminas work is surely gender oriented, resounding with the need to first dismantle then reclaim the self.

Sharing a two-artist exhibition with Julia Pagano in 92, Saminas point of departure confronted the female viewpoint, without allowing an insidious nuance of the male opinion to surface. Juxtaposed with cut sections of lush pomegranates, severed heads, or anonymous, sturdy limbs were inexplicably linked. Reducing imagery to organic motifs the artists experiments led her to the kernel of identity irrevocably linked with the natural world. Stripping the body of its outer layer reveals veins, references to the productive organs, arteries and the brain co-existing with nature in the human scheme of things. Vibrant curvilinear shapes traverse the canvas like limbs entwined. Fronds, branches or a heaving nest of snakes. Touched by light, they are woven together in movement that resembles a strange, forested landscape or perhaps a giant brain.

Obsessed with the process of creation, the artist formulates sculptural elements whose dialogue is with the surface that contains them. Set with rabbit skin glue, ground stone is mixed with beeswax, painted with oils and sculpted with carvers tools before the final brush-strokes. Sometimes appearing to ripple beneath the surface, sometimes emerging in a full-bloodied relief, the reference is biological and metaphorical, the patterns of the cosmos given a third dimensional cast.

To arrive at her conclusions, the artist often works on numerous studies drawn with charcoal and acrylics. Complete in themselves the drawings are immaculate, intensively worked, colour subtlety introduced. Branches knit -a barrier that, through the use of grids and shading, suggests the concealment of a soft, moist mossy centre.

Samina Mansuris collection of paintings displayed at the Chawkandi Art evolve from the sculpted images of 95, to the seductive, brilliantly defined images of her current aesthetic expression. She dreamed of a phallic form which materialised in the existence of an Australian Banksia plant. A vertical solid object, the artist depicts the banksia almost hidden by clusters of clinging, oyster-like shapes, open to reveal the pearl secured within.

There is a painting displayed that shows a cluster of exotic leaves, and myriad shades create a trace of blue made luminous by a background of light. Look closely, the scarlet tipped leaves are beaks. Bird-creatures preparing to fly mark the synthesis of earlier periods of work.

A striking visual image echoes the vertical imagery of the Banksia again in a tree that appears cut in half. Appearing healthy from outside, the sap is eaten away by nameless insects. The tree is hollowed by means of countless tiny holes and caverns are created by the relentless pest. Framed by a verdant background, an underground network of strong, living roots grow with pulsating strength around the ruined tree. An extremely powerful yet sensitive display of work that touches raw nerve ends, it is not to be missed.  Samina Mansuris work is seen infrequently, each piece demanding her utmost, timeless concern. Moving aesthetic relevance from canvas to canvas leads to a dialogue that exists between the paintings. These are museum pieces, infinitely heartrending, masterfully rendered.

The artist began her art education at the Central Institute of Art, Karachi, taking her Diploma in 77. A period of three years at the Pratt Institute of Design, New York, earned her a B.F.A. in Graphic Design in 85. For five years Samina worked as a graphic designer in New York but she longed to give her time entirely to an artistic vocabulary devised on her own. Eventually, the urge for expression became too strong to contain and Samina gave up a lucrative post to become a student once, more. She joined the New York Studio School in 88, and for two years studied drawing, painting and sculpture. Returning home, for family reasons in 90, after years spent on the New York art scene with its stimulating resonance and like-minded friends was an adjustment, Yet at home, Samina found the space in which to explore an inner landscape, to work at her own pace. Her energy is thus fully directed towards her work and few true artists demand more.

Presently, having found solutions to her aesthetic problems, Saminas work is classically oil on canvas. Moving away from the square, she works on a triangular surface, or cuts away the excessive space around the subject.

Understated beauty is created with colours that appear monochromatic but in reality, are rich with tonal value. The viewer discovers a philosophy addressing the need to return to the roots of knowledge for a renewed sensibility. Like all living creatures, humankind is part of a great cycle unifying all elements. Roots, thorns and cacti, blood and paint growing in turbulence. ln the final analysis all are one.