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Opening Doors

Author: Majorie Husain      Publications: Dawn - The Review (p.14)      Dated: 25-31 Oct 2005

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Displayed at the Chawkandi Art, Meher Afrozs latest collection of prints and paintings: Zindan, which means imprisoned, is a thoughtful, thought provoking series. Continuing the analysis of past-present-future, she contemplates the loss of norms, changing values and importance of status symbols in an egoistic society.

There is invariably a lot to read, in Afrozs work; using a vocabulary of recognized symbols and portraits unnamed and unknown to us, the artist turns to the philosophy of Jalal ud-din Rumi to emphasize her views: “One went to the door of the beloved and knocked A voice asked, who is there? He answered, it is I the voice said, There is no room for me and thee, the door was shut. After a year of solitude and deprivation he returned and knocked, a voice from within asked, Who is there? the man said, lt is thee, the door was opened for him”.

A sequence of painted studies of various outfits, uniforms, formal attire, party dresses are displayed on hangers, still bearing the imprints of their owners. These are the identifying factors. In a similar vein a row of assorted chairs stand ready to be claimed, they vary from the over-stuffed upholstered model, to the folding, wooden slatted chair. Far from disdainful, the unassuming artist does not articulate opinions from a soap-box; instead she conveys to the observer this is not the way she views society, but rather her experience of the way society wishes to be viewed; pomp and circumstance recognized by trappings. An underlying nostalgia, perhaps for the safe patterns of childhood, is revealed in symbols of time-honoured rituals. Well versed in diverse art media, Afroz received her art education from the Lucknow School of Art, an institute that was well equipped in the Printmaking Department. Particularly drawn to graphics, Afroz emerged as a regular prize winner at successive National Exhibitions. She arrived in Karachi in 71, and was disappointed to find a dearth of printmaking facilities, yet her first solo exhibition in 1974, featured prints the like of which had never been seen in Karachi. A few years later her innovations were acknowledged by the accordance of top honours in the Graphic section of the National Art Exhibition.

Upon joining the Central Institute of Arts and Crafts, Karachi in 73, the artist took up the challenge of setting up a workshop for printmaking. The press was donated, the space a converted storeroom, but from these small beginnings sprung an interest in printmaking that influenced Karachis art education centres. About that time, l questioned Meher as to her future ambitions and plans. “My ambitions,” she replied, “is to have my own Printmaking workshop cum studio where professional artists can work.” That ambition she most successfully fulfilled.

Presently a senior faculty member of the lndus Valley School, Afroz continues to make-time for her own work. Themes aside, work is immensely important for the impeccable use of the media. The classic etching technique of exquisite linear value is worked in scales that allude to classic references. In her brush and knife works textural value is of prime aesthetic importance. The artist builds up painterly layers with acrylics, digging, removing and repairing; she achieves pinpoints of glowing light that seen from a distance meld into luminous, rosy colour. Landscape-like background emits strong, tactile, subtly changing undercurrents. The striking hands-on elements in the artists work perhaps acknowledge feminine aesthetics, the decorative craft handwork that became the rallying cry of the movement, as she weighs changing times and the changes wrought thereof; so she considers the changing art history that led to the current contemporary art developments.