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Seeking Self

Author: Amra Ali      Publications: The Herald– Chawkandi Art (p.103)      Dated: 25 Mar 2014

Exhibition Navigation

Conventional painting has been a window to many worlds; the painted representation transported the viewer to different vistas of imagination where his own creativity would meet his subjective space. This subjective space could be an inner yearning, a moment of recognition nf an idea, an ideal or, perhaps, a vision.

Intangible Concerns, an exhibition at Chawkandi Art gallery, engages the two-dimensional work of Meher Afroz and R M Naeem and sculptural work of Abdul Jabbar Gull, in a conversation of ideas, ideals and visions. Proximity in the three artists narratives seems to come from a shared vision which, one can assume, is what allows their work to coexist in the exhibition.

To begin with, the figurative inhabits the work of all three, though in different forms and within different contexts. Afroz has used the figure as poshak, or apparel, in the past to convey a sense of the static, of silence. Absence of the figure is visible through its garb -illustrating the tussle between the material and the spiritual, the coexistence of body and soul in a milieu of social disruption. In series of work titled Mask, Puppet and Amulet series (1980s-1990s), the figure was embedded in social awareness. In the Zindaan series, in 2001-2002, the figure was less about itself than it was about the intangible. Through a layered use of paint, texture and line, she recorded the strained connection of society with self, based on her own convictions.

From 2002 onwards, the figurative became the voice of a societys conscience in Gulls work in wood. Gulls narrative began with a celebration of woods natural beauty, the resonance of which one may find in mans address to God in lqbals Jawab-e-Shikwa: “I am the one who fashions mirrors out of sand.” But no matter how an artist gives shape to his ideas and how he uses materials, his carving from nature relates to how all materials came into being in the first place. Quoting from Jawab-e-Shikwa again, God answers man: “I fashioned this world out of one and the same clay … From mere earth I made steel, pure and without alloy.”

From his earliest sculptures, titled Ordinary Souls, to the single figures and groups he created later, Gull has used his art to negate gender and to represent humanity as an idea, an ideal or a subject. It is this intangibility that brings his narrative close to the core of human existence. This is most vividly exemplified in his work titled Without White Cloth (2009), in which faceless souls (close to 300 figures in wood) are placed around a glass cube. Perhaps seeking solace and finding none, they only find their own reflection in the cube.

Gulls 2014 wood and aluminium works, titled Paradise and Self-Absorption, reinforce the sculptors devotion to his medium and his closeness to nature. Paradise, as he says, could be a paradise that we seek, or the one that we assume to have attained in this world. It is interesting to note that Afrozs work, displayed in the same show, refers to a paradise lost. She replaces or hides traditional lslamic geometric patterns to reinforce the loss of connectivity to a historic past and to a value system.

ln much the same vein, Naeem asserts the relevance of conventional and historical knowledge. Placing himself at the centre – such as in his installation work titled Envy, shown at Koel Gallery in 2013 – he uses red and green chillies to create the figurative form. While the installation and its shadow extend towards the viewer, placing him in that space, they recede into an intangible dimension in the video work, titled Mutability, and projected on the wall behind the installation. One can assume that, in this work, his concept precedes the work and allows the installation or experimentation to happen.

The figure in Naeems work is located in an idealistic, imagined space. Like the artists shadow, or some part of his consciousness, it meanders through a surreal-scape in which symbols, such as arrows, road signs and markers, give a sense of direction. Naeems figure seems to listen, to meditate and let an environment unfold.

lf Gull stalls and Afroz pauses, then Naeem seems to float. What links their works is that all three have chosen to look inwards, as participants in their own larger cultural context. Each locates his or her own space and influence based on their individual lived experience and vision, without the pretension of creating art work for a global or popular consumption.