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An Artist Looks at Amulets

Author: Marjorie Hussain      Publications: Dawn - Art Review (p. 18-19)      Dated: 1 – 7 Feb 1994

Exhibition Navigation

In an exhibition of paintings at the Chawkandi Gallery, Clifton titled – Amulet – Meher Afroz displays a series of paintings that include dense, tactile surfaces filled with countless areas of change and interest. Fragmented layers are brought together as if cobbled or welded in a disparate collage. Much of the work connotes the past and her experience of growing up in Lucknow. With an education that encompasses printmaking as well as painting, she freely employs a variety of methods to create the often copiously layered surfaces. Her motivation, to express regrets for fast disappearing traditions and changing values.

Since her first solo exhibition in 1974, Meher has been exploring ancient cultures and their influence on the present. Early man assumed masks in his devotional rituals, appropriate expressions to cover the faces underneath. So the artists earlier work explored puppets, rapidly changing. The collage element includes borders which become frames. Sometimes metallic, often resembling stone, surfaces heavily engraved with graffiti. Each painting is a wealth of detail to be studied and understood at length.

There are suggestions of manuscripts, faded by time, iconography, idols created by society for their personal worship. Oval areas resemble a classic miniature painting format or windows. There is much to ponder over, much to reflect on in this cerebral collection. Among the multi images one finds a Ghandara head, the simple outlines of early cave painters, calligraphic glyphs and the markings on stone and bricks seasoned by time.

Summing up a variety of techniques at her command, Meher Afroz creates a convincing narrative uniquely articulated. With acrylic paint, the artist covers the surface of her paper, often removing much of the paint with water to build up layers of indistinct surfaces. Using powdered pigment she introduces tiny vertical strokes, resembling cobbled stitches with a calligraphy pen. Sometimes the paper is covered with a fine cloth, paint applied through the cloth and then put masks; all the paraphernalia of people hiding their true feelings with expediency.

The results of four years thought, the Amulet series abandons the chemical involvement and retains the artists experiments with bleach and caustic soda to break up tiny areas of paint. The link with printmaking is seen in the various surfaces aged by amongst other processes, being layered and put through a press

Recent developments in Mehers work leads to comment on a society which is through the press to create the creases found in old documents and manuscripts. The virtuosic postiche resulting holds myriad subtle details.

Meher Afrozs early graphics and semi abstract paintings showed a confidant expertise and sensitivity towards sensuous textures. ln 87, the artist showed a collection in the Masks series, employing an interesting, experimental, technique assimilating variegated surfaces, leaves rough cotton, wire which were introduced at the printmaking stage. Mehers seminal exhibition about the flux of identity emphasised the subject with varying textures and rich colouration. Amber, yellow ochre, raw sienna browns and olive greens enhanced the surfaces worked around the central Mask motif.

An exhibition of paintings in 1990, found the painter removing the masks in a series of untitled portraits. The faces revealed were gargoylic, as if the masks worn too long had drawn the features and the life essence from the subiects. All were ironically framed in nuances of classical traditional motifs.

Since her last exhibition four years ago, Meher has been immersed in experimental work, using chemicals with her paints to gauge the effects. She began to develop the theme of the great mass of people without recourse – the voiceless ones. Dark works of subtle linear quality.

The results of four years thought, the Amulet series abandons the chemical involvement and retains the artists experiments with bleach and caustic soda to break up tiny areas of paint. The link with printmaking is seen in the various surfaces aged by amongst other processes, being layered and put through a press. Graphite is used, figures drawn with a pencil, pure mixed with glue to act as binder, but the predominant medium is acrylic paint. Often the surfaces bear a lustrous metallic sheen, the overall results, dense layers of extreme richness.

The artists viewpoint is that the present era in history has lost the innocence of early or so called primitive man, and also abandoned the cultivated structure of a more recent generation. The amulets or charms of the past which brought the wearer luck or warded off harm from unknown sources are now created by man for less innocent reasons. The images created in the paintings do not seek to explain any particular system, instead they deplore a loss of spiritual value, which brings in its place the impermanent worship of material gain.