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A Bruch with the Past

Author: Marjorie Husain      Publications: The Review (p.22)      Dated: 20 Mar 1997

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It could have been an exhilarating affair with foreign and local artists getting together to work on the ancient and mystic site of Moenjodaro. Sadly, the event laden with potential turned into a damp squib.

Partially funded by UNESCO, an artists camp project at Moenjodaro was planned. Artists from foreign countries were to be invited to join distinguished local artists for a three week period of workshops, interaction and creative work. The idea was originally conceived by the Goethe Institute and after several brainstorming sessions on the arrangements, it was taken over by the P.N.C.A. But nothing materialised until recently when the V.M. Gallery at Rangoonwala Centre, announced the opening of an exhibition titled: Roots of Culture, the results of the artists camp, but by then the visiting artists from abroad had long gone.

We later found out that in November, 96, six artists from Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt, Australia, italy and France had arrived in Islamabad to take part at the Mohenjo-Daro-based artists camp. They visited Harappa and Taxila, meeting archaeologists from site museums and were taken to Mohenjo-Daro for eleven days. The artists were put up at the government rest house but were apparently not too happy with the arrangement and thought it was too away from it all. The visiting artists found the all-male culture disturbing and expressed their wishes to return to the city. As this was not on the agenda their request was denied. The artists complied, settling down to work in their rooms instead of painting on site. There were no participants of the project at the opening of the display which hosted forty artwork in Karachi. Not even Mazhar Mirza, the unknown artist selected by the P.N.C.A. to represent Karachi. Finally the impressions of the event were taken off the walls.

The efforts by David Sequira from Australia, whose background encompasses links with Pakistan were most interesting. An art teacher by vocation, Sequira appeared fascinated with the traditional patterns of local handloom materials which he incorporated in his work. He exhibited his artwork which entailed an arrangement of tiny, primitive clay lamps along with his jottings and sketches – typed at the Moenjodaro Museum- which lay pasted ln decorated notebooks. These booklets were arrayed on stands around the lamps like revered objects. Obviously deep into Aboriginal art, the artist wrote of Moenjodaro as if of a dream-time, the mystic beginning of the world according to Aboriginal beliefs. At the American Centre, a group display which opened recently could also be one of the last events of its kind. The Art Director, Mohammad Wasif, who as a young artist graduated from the National College of Arts, Lahore, has completed twenty-five years at the American Centre and is about to move on. Newcomers to Karachi are unaware of the once dynamic cultural contribution to the city by the U.S.l.S. at the American Centre, or of the vital role played by Wasif. Encouraging new talents, initiating and arranging countless diverse cultural events, has been a significant role in the development of art activity in the city.

Titled Inspirations, the display is billed as an exhibition of works by Pakistani artists with American art experience, albeit with a nebulous claim ln some instances. There were enough good pieces on show to ensure a fitting farewell to Wasif. A striking six to eight feel mural painted by Natasha Shoro who obtained a B.F.A. from the low a State University in 91, carried the movement and imagery of water and colour echoing the ebb and flow through skilfully handled space. At her best while working on large surfaces. Natasha brings discipline to colour fields by integrating elements of ethnic fabric designs in patterned borders.

Showing a new development in his work, Mohammed Kazim, who participated in a printmaking workshop, in Chicago 95, combined several printmaking techniques with interesting results. Kazim is an artist who continues to analyse through his work the Indus Valley civilisation, as does Riffat Alvi, renowned for her earth pigment technique. Here are two artists who immediately spring to mind as prime contenders for the Moenjodaro project.

Karachis leading women painters, Qudsia Nisar, Meher Atroz and Nahid Raza, were very much there as well. Qudsia in colourful form showing abstract expressionist water-colours of melting design and technique.

A combination of wax etching covered with acrylic paint drew Nahids women theme into a new aesthetic dimension. Afroz, whose solo exhibition of paintings is currently showing at the Chawkandi Art, confirmed her preoccupation with the means to an end, creating surfaces of exquisite sensitivity.

Enveloped by semi-figurative and abstract art, the incandescent landscapes of Kaleem Khan appeared to draw colour from his surroundings. Painting the panorama of Baluchistan with a textural, impressionistic approach, Kaleem perceives the strength and dignity of the people of the region, finding in the dusty terrain reflected prisms of light and colour. Sculptor Durriya Kazis Snake in the Grass is a marvellously witty piece, wrought of lead over stucco, brass and wood. Undoubtedly, an important group exhibition without the inclusion of sculpture lacks dimension.

Using charcoal and pastel on Mylar, groundwork and oil on wood and cast aluminium, Samina Mansuri creates heavily worked surfaces embodying her work with a vocabulary of esoteric metaphors. Imagery suggesting barbed wire meshes of blood-red veins, half submerged beneath barren soil, dramatically contrasting colours formulate surrealistic landscapes reverberating violence. Several other note- worthy artists contribute to the show but I`ve run out of space. Anyway Samina Mansuri is a tough act to follow.

Titled Inspirations, the display is bitted as an exhibition of works by Pakistani artists with American art experience, albeit with a nebulous claim in some instances. There were enough good pieces on show to ensure a fitting farewell to Wasif. A striking six to eight feet mural painted by Natasha Shoro, carried the movement and imagery of water and colour echoing the ebb and flow through skilfully handled space.