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Sign of the Times

Author: Salwat Ali      Publications: Newsline- Artline (p.132)      Dated: Sep 2007

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In this age of nuclear proliferation, inhabitants of politically volatile states live a life fraught with stress, anxiety and apprehension. As hapless citizens battered by constant upheaval and flux, they find themselves increasingly confused and ill-equipped to navigate through the maze of social and political chaos that mars their daily life. Munawar Alis exhibition of sculptures, titled Overloaded, at Chawkandi Art centralises on the strain of bearing these pressures. He plays on the meaning of overloaded to define a physical as well as a psychological state.

A collection of wooden sculptures mimicking nuclear warheads, missiles, rockets and hand grenades appended with profiles, busts and body parts of extremist fundamentalists, terrorists and ordinary souls is an acute representation of the prevalent religion-political siege constricting the common mans right to normal existence. Presenting war weaponry loaded with human arsenal, Munawar Ali comments on the unjustifiable proliferation of the arms race that perpetrates a defensive mindset and a tension-riddled life.

As an artist, Munawar Ali has been constantly motivated by the outfall of the mass media explosion. He protests against the abundance of audio/video propaganda and how it can subtly manipulate the psyche into forming opinions – how innocent people are confronted/ bamboozled with diverse points of view, as each faction pushes its agenda forward. ln Overloaded, he again targets the media. But this time it is not just for overwhelming the ordinary public with a profusion of information but also for making them pawns in the crossfire between warring nations.

Carved from single logs, his sculptures are slim upright columns of wood conforming largely to the shapes and sizes of missiles and rockets. The insertion of the figurative elements melds naturally in some pieces but sits uncomfortably in others. lt seems the artist is more preoccupied with the thematic thrust and less with the sculptural concerns of the work. Hints of other third world issues like poverty, hunger and identity crisis woven into the sculptural forms, maybe adding to the conceptual aura he is trying to create in the viewers mind, but they disturb the aesthetic balance of his individual pieces. The emaciated body image and the empty belly carvings are also not new and have been used much more effectively by other young sculptors.

The second segment of the exhibition pertains to drawings. Blurred images of various kinds of hand grenades are a direct link to the theme of Overloaded. By cross-hatching with the pointed nib of a pen Munawar tries to give a spiky, barbed effect to his drawings, the meaning of which is self-explanatory. This representation is simple and direct. Not much drawing prowess here to write home about.

Seen in unison, Overloaded is morbid and disturbing- a reflection of the times. And that, perhaps, is the greatest pull factor of the exhibition. lf suitably infused with rhythm and lyricism, sculpture pieces gain in elegance and sophistication but a considerable amount of current art is abrupt and matter of fact, possibly due to its thematic nature. Munawar Ali, overly concerned with the message he is trying to convey, has not concentrated on the aesthetic appearance of his pieces. He could have strived for a more artistic balance regarding shape and form without jeopardising the gravity of the message.  Presently, his pieces need to be seen collectively -they lose stature when viewed individually.