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Frame of Mind

Author: Gregory Minissale      Publications: The Herald - Fine Arts (p.95)      Dated: Nov/Dec 1990

Exhibition Navigation

Salima Hashmis charcoal pictures on display at the Indus Gallery this month are powerfully imaginative visions of a cryptic struggle. In Salimas latest work, the relationship between thinking and painting becomes a conflict, the signs of which are written all over her surfaces. An artists favourite lament is that too much thinking destroys a painting. Salima is one of those rarer artists who have decided to dramatise this very conflict in her own work.

Salimas own lament is that she is never able to shrug off inhibition or self-consciousness entirely – like Pollock believed that he could – hence, the repetitive, pictorial device of a confessional inner frame, a self-conscious construct which is supposed to throw into relief the real painting – that is, the non-thinking, spontaneous and purely painterly part of her work.

Snapping at the artists heels as she attempts to fly off to the realms of pure fantasy and abandon, is a political conscience (the “hands” of Faizs poetry pinching her chilles heel), and self-consciousness (the double frame).

The double frame and the stands motif do not always seem to work well in the overall composition. Sometimes, however, the artist has achieved a fine balance between what she knows and what she feels.

Many printmakers and artists in Pakistan have used the pictorial device of an inner frame for different effects – like Zahoorul Akhlaque and Naazish Ataullah – but Salima Hashmi has managed to use this device in a new, individual way. While many of Salimas prints – done this year at the Providence Rhode Island School of Design – are remarkably tender, or dramatic, the division of planes in her prints is far less fluent than in the charcoal pieces. The acrylics on paper do not seem to have hit that elusive right spot either.

With Salimas charcoals, however, there is a continuum, linking the inside area with the outside, that is a triumph of harmony. While the prints are evidence of the artists coming to terms with a new and difficult medium, the charcoals are flourishing virtuoso pieces with a storm of dark and furious passion unfurling into an almost postcoital peace. Although the sexual innuendo is there, so is the political discourse and the psychological turmoil. Yet none of these struggles is allowed to overpower the imagery, or make it one-dimensional. Some of Salimas earlier overtly political pictures tended, understandably, under the force of political circumstances, to be a little unbalanced. With the watercolours of the last few years however, there were signs of an increasing skill in the threading together of the intimately sensual and the brutally social and political. And here, with her charcoals, Salima Hashmi has reached new heights.

In Inner Landscape V, a vast dark countryside becomes a reclining woman, or a calm horizon is violated by the tyranny of a frame. ln Cries and Whispers, intertwined strokes, tightly knotted like cruel turns of phrase, untangle themselves into breathing silences. A grid laid over the scene, is a reminder that we are watching something revealed and gives us the illusion that we can see beyond, beyond the cage. But on which side is the viewer?

These pictures are thrilling precisely because we dont know whether the cage, the grid or the inner frame encapsulate the heart of the matter, or whether in fact, the heart lies outside. Sometimes, the inner frame is a red herring, the conscious focus that violently forces us to view a part of the composition. lt may zero in on the artists choice, which may be accidental or deliberate, but the conscious frame construct keeps us wondering (to no conclusion) about which is the more real, that inside, that outside, or for that matter, (to extend the metaphor) whether the din of cries and whispers and political upheavals outside is more real than the thumping heart and the feelings of passion, fear and foreboding inside.

Salima Hashmis work dramatises these two realities like any artist, writer or musician would, not only by making them appear as two sides of the same coin, but by making them interplay in her pictures in such novel and exciting ways, that they are like a constant shifting before the eyes. To be able to give glimpses of this unresolved restlessness, or paradox, is a triumph of art.

Salima is never able to shrug off inhibition or self-consciousness entirely-like Pollock believed that he could -hence, the repetitive, pictorial device of a confessional inner frame, a self-conscious construct which is supposed to throw into relief the real painting-that is, the non-thinking, spontaneous and purely painterly part of her work.