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Sumaya Durrani

Author: Salima Hashmi      Publications: Facelous Nude (p.11)      Dated: 1995

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Sumaya Durranis works have travelled a great distance from her 1986 exhibition in Lahore. It is difficult to know where to make the connections, except that being a thoughtful and passionate artist; Sumayas images reflect her intellectual concerns and emotional journeys.

The l993 show at Chawkandi makes the discourse on women a central concern. Sumaya insists that these works are deliberately unpainterly. The evidence of the mark and gesture have been obliterated and the recourse is the off-set litho press. That she has gone to great lengths to remove any overt signs of her interaction with the actual surface of the works, implies that the intellect reigns. There is a physical detachment from the making of these objects on a certain level. Her aspiration not with- standing Sumayas visual sensual past is very much present in these complex works. She acknowledges not only this but other images from the past.

Delighting in a variety of visual references, from op-art (manifest in Colin Davids paintings of the 70s) to historical stereotypes of the nude, the surface vibrates with lyrical interactions. lt is as though there is a tussle abroad, with the artist as both referee and protagonist. Sumaya takes up the cudgels on behalf of women, re-invents signs and images, demanding a double take from the viewer. There is a soft visual stroking here, accompanied by a cerebral nick of the razor-blade.

The unsuspecting viewer is confronted by the works which are obstinate about being categorized. They evade your grasp just as you are about to understand what they are all about. Because, in fact, they are about a lot of things. They are about women looking at men looking at women. They are about camouflage and counter camouflage. They are about male-female manipulations, and about the convenience of labels and the comfort of easily readable signs. They are about the seductiveness of rhythm and pattern and what lurks beneath those layers. The layers defy being lifted and meanings mutate.

That Sumaya resents her work being possessed as an object is very clear. Her energy is turned towards the viewer, demanding that he or she be made vulnerable.

The works do not offer the cosiness of falling into a series. The painter works hard to delink each work, the viewer starts afresh each time. Here is the female, nude and accessibly framed, approachable. The layers of lace, fabric, pattern, inviting visual recollections. Once you are on the threshold you become aware of the impossibility of taking them at face-value. You begin to understand as you move from one work to the next – so in spite of the artist, the works give up their meanings, not in unison, but in the context they create together.

One is hardly conscious of the fact that there is no colour here. The varied blacks, velvety, tonal and luxuriant, revel in the absence of colour.

Sumaya Durrani is the consummate designer. She de-stabilizes the frame and challenges her own expertise. The solutions emerge from the brink. She ridicules intuition and the answers come up pristine.

Many of these works are about the practice of painting and its dialectic. Sumaya quotes from Hal Foster in her brochure as a plea for a shift in looking and evaluating art, the artist as a manipulator of signs more than a producer of art objects, and the viewer an active reader of messages rather than a passive contemplator of the aesthetic or consumer of the spectacular.

It may surprise the artist that some of the viewers may choose to ignore the post-modern and will be reading beyond her carefully constructed frameworks. The darker, threatening, more open-ended of her works are most convincing of both her intuition and her and our ultimate vulnerability.