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The Art of Escaping

Author: Dr. Akbar Naqvi      Publications: The Herald – Fine Art (p-146)      Dated: May 1997

Exhibition Navigation

Writing about Moeen Faruqis recent exhibition has ended up becoming an obligation to salvage him from his admirers. One reviewer, for instance, describes him as an “educationist, a published poet, a short story writer and an art critic.” Given all these preoccupations, it is a wonder that he has time to paint. Yet, since 1993, Moeen has held three exhibitions including the present show at Chawkandi Art.

Moeen used to paint angst, alienation and other stereotypical existential ideas. But I am sure the burden of his friends desired image of him-as a man of multiple talents-must have been a heavy cross to bear. As such, the few paintings in this exhibition which are executed in a different style must have come as a pressing temptation.

In what he calls a departure from his earlier work, Moeen is seeking to give himself more space and air. He has yet to capture light, which is poetry to painting, but the oppression with which he was struggling in his early work seem to have lifted. This is evident in the work, Fruit of passion. What passion this painting depicts is not clear, but Moeens skill in handling the by now copybook exercise of contriving shallow depth on flat surface, originating in Cezanne, shows to advantage. Tables, fruit, a chair and other accessories of the painting indicate that the artists challenge is not to unburden his sexual repression but to study the relationship between objects and space, If Beckmann was Moeens presiding genius earlier, encouraging him with his depression, hopefully the eclectic direction provided by Cezanne and Matisse will elevate Moeens mood.

While Fruit of passion is a happy departure from Moeens earlier preoccupations, Man with sculpture evokes some of the same old themes. In this clever composition, redolent with images of entrapment, a wooden man and a woman-like piece of modern sculpture kill space, suggesting a state of helplessness and loss of freedom as a fait accompli.

But in Variation on a theme, which may be seen as a deconstruction of Man with sculpture, Moeen moves once again in a new direction. Flattening the human figure as well as the sculpture, he opens up the composition to air and sky. Not content with this, he fills the work with ornamental markings. A sense of release is apparent even though the composition is cluttered. That the work is flat and poster-like adds to its felicity.

Moeens emphasis in Variation on a theme is not on alienation or angst, but the new-found joy of picture making. However, there is a risk involved in painting for the sake of painting, because you may have nothing to say, only something to show. And people do not see, but grope for words to cover up their blindness.

In traditional societies of the East, seekers after the self were advised to take a vow of silence. Moeen is a taciturn person, who does not have much to say in any case, and the silence of the new paintings comes naturally to him. It is ironic, then, that we are invited to read Moeens painting as “an engaging book.” Such a suggestion is in fact a disservice to the artist because the paintings become lost in words. Given the artists own reticence, I am sure that he did not intend this and would like us to see his paintings first and foremost as visual objects. It is a pleasant surprise that some of them are actually rather good, showing that is handling of paint has improved.

One hopes that Moeens interest in painting is more serious than his own image of himself. Learning from him that in his school days he was known as the class artist, he must have been keen to develop his natural gift. Added to this could be the desire to escape into a world of his own making, within and for which he is responsible to no one. If this compulsion persists, he will grow as a painter-but only if he remains firmly planted in his own space where voices of family and friends cannot enter.

It is curious coincidence that Moeens cousin, Wahab Jaffer, is also exhibiting his work this month. Both come from a business family; today, Moeen is in the business of schools while Wahab runs his familys aviation company.

Whereas Moeen seeks freedom from his immediate shackles, Wahab learnt to paint to survive. The trauma of losing his business during the senior Bhuttos nationalisation was too much for Wahab. His heart gave up, and he took refuge in painting. What began as therapy then became a life-long vocation.

Wahab learnt to paint in Ali Imams studio, but derived his inspiration from the paintings of Ahmed Pervaiz, the magnificent derelict who, by his very existence, put many of our cherished values of security and respectability to shame. Unlike Moeen, Wahab has never infused social or political messages into his painting. Instead of seeking to express concepts of sorrow and protest, he found Ahmed Pervaiz. But Wahab did not copy Pervaiz, even when he was seen by many to be doing so. Instead, he painted his inspiration from Pervaiz in a style uniquely his own. Wahab became a nocturnal painter, working diligently at night in a converted bathroom lit by bright electric lamps. This light was only a convenience, through, because what he actually painted in thrusts of refulgent colour was his blind hope to survive.

Over the years, Wahab has made two kinds of paintings. The first contain vases and flowering paint, and bask not in the light of the sun, even though they are connected to the rainbow. lt is here that nature and art come to ether in darkness, where life and death coexist. The movement of the artists hand brings forth his forms, and the same gestural motion often creates strange faces instead of strange flowers. This is the second type of Wahabs painting. The gestural aberration of these faces, without gender and irresponsive to the category of ugliness or beauty, reveals a romantic sensibility. But he has also painted anonymous female faces in a more conventional manner. These faces could be described as the artists fantasy of dumb innocence as the desirable object of love. For this, he could well be accused of sexism in this age of feminist deconstruction.

It may be recalled that Ahmed Pervaiz also painted female faces, but this work addressed a personal agenda rather than portraying his art at its best. None of the faces he painted could be called romantic or innocent, however. They were plain women with whom he was angry. The woman he loved romantically, he did not paint.