Time, Space and Soul
Author: Nafisa Rizvi Publications: The Herald (p 114) Dated: July 2009
Sumayya Durrani has embarked on a journey of discovery and wants us to keep up. It is a tough demand, considering that after a hiatus of seven years Durranis cup is brimming over with art, as if she has spent the time amassing a visual tome of cogitative musings and must now exhibit to purge her spirit. Her most recent exhibition entitled “Shahab-e-Saqib” (Chawkandi Art June 11 to 20, 2009) is her third showing in the last seven months and she warns us that theres more to come before the years end.
The title of the exhibition refers to a cosmic meteorite, a reference from the Quran, (Sura Safaat, 37:9) which is translated literally as a “flaming fire of piercing brightness”. Meteorites are remnants of dying stars that float in space until they enter the atmospheric field of planets and collide with the surfaces of the latter, leaving large craters. On entering the atmosphere the meteors burst into flames and can be seen as blazing showers. What Durrani paints is a stylised version of the meteorite, resembling natural crystal more than a meteorite which is black and less angular.
The paintings seem to grow towards development and resolution. They begin as small canvases, reflective and thoughtful. The single cube in the centre of the painting deconstructs into fragmented grids, lines, squares, cubes – all bright and angular against dark backgrounds. There is deliberate alliteration in the composition – the same image is repeated with minor variations. Then the canvases become larger and the crystalline object becomes the pivotal form of the painting though it is unwieldy and uncontained in spite of the boundaries of the painting. Finally the crescendo is reached with three gargantuan paintings that sit awkwardly on the floor, barely able to fit within the gallery space and the viewers myopic vision. The large paintings consist of fields of effluent colour on which the angular object lies suspended in space.
It would be easy but glib to view Durranis work in terms of influences of art movements of the west. Over the years, she has shed her western sensibilities and discovered a spiritual universe that is fulfilling and all encompassing. In the quest for the negation of nafs and replacing it with the transcendental ruh, Durrani has found herself as an artist. It is not surprising, however, that she is not always able to convince her viewers of her pursuits. We, the viewers, look at art and most other esoteric productions through a subjective lens and see what we want to and what is familiar to us.
So unused are we to the cerebral vision of divinity we are unlikely to ever see it in a painting that has no arrows pointing in the direction of the sanctimonious spirituality to which we are more readily inclined. Thus it is unlikely that in the repetition of similar images we are able to spot the reference to the Sufi method of rhythmic invocation, a technique created to lead the egotistical human towards self-effacement and, consequently, spiritual gratification.
If we are unable to see the profundities of Durranis work, we must not judge the artist harshly but turn the introspective critical eye on ourselves. At her end, Durrani has been focused in her pursuit. Though we may be critical of her for a copious range of images, symbols, mediums and techniques within a short span of seven months, we are compelled to admit that she never gives up her self-imposed crusade to reinvent herself. Also to her credit, she never lets up on the elbow grease. In her previous show at the same gallery in December last year, Durrani displayed two works which left most people sceptical at her minimal output, little knowing that she had made more than 40 pieces from which she had selected two because they, she felt, most clearly resolved the issues she had been grappling with.
The three huge canvases are the piece de resistance of the show. They communicate the levels of achievement to which the devotee aspires. The first is a full-blooded red painting with a dark grey meteorite signifying the sullied ego mired in the passions of the material world. This ego must be cleansed in order to aspire to the next level of engagement. The next in the sequence is the black painting in which the meteorite shimmers in lighter shades of grey because the explorer has unburdened him/ herself somewhat. The focal object is much less anchored and has lifted into the cosmic expanse and there is an aura of light that glimmers hopefully in the distance.
In the final episodic saga, the meteorite is almost white and a luminous gleam of light can be seen, close and attainable. But it is the details, which escape our attention, that in fact make the paintings more authentic. The large red painting smoulders with the ardour of base desire. A closer inspection of the black painting reveals dabs of green – the colour of our religious creed in human vocabulary – trickling out from behind the meteorite. The unearthly incandescent blue of the final painting is serene and infused with the divine light.
The passage that Durrani takes us through, on the wings of her meteorite, traverses millions of light years to the time when our universe, as we know, it began. As we seek the sacred on this arduous path, the astronomer and scientist meticulously study the piece of cosmic debris for they know that somewhere within this meteorite lies the answer to the mysteries of the universe.
The paintings seem to grow towards development and resolution. They begin as small canvases, reflective and thoughtful. The single cube in the centre of the painting deconstructs into fragmented grids, lines, squares, cubes-all bright and angular against dark backgrounds. There is deliberate alliteration in the composition-the same image is repeated with minor variations.