Curiouser and Curiouser…
Author: Zehra Laila Javeri Publications: The Herald – Art File (p-150) Dated: Sept 1997
Faizas work, on show earlier at the Chawkandi art gallery, crosses cultural boundaries in an attempt to mesh eastern mythological images with western visions. That she retains any of the East in this transition is doubtful.
Reminiscent of Marc Chagalls painting, most of Faizas work draws inspiration from the West. The photo-etchings that she uses and the characters that she paints are quite clearly derived from western art. Tossed in amongst these various sources are poems in Urdu or drawings of the mythical buraq, a mythological animal that is part woman and part beast.
As far as artistic vision is concerned, the infusion of western culture into the work is not a problem. However, the issue does become relevant where content comes into question. ln bringing the West to the East, Faiza has brought western allegories into a context where they lose much of their meaning. As a result, they pose problems for the viewer who may either consider the work more thought provoking than it actually is, or else simply dismiss it as incomprehensible or disturbing. Does Faiza paint for a select few that straddle both cultures? Or is this conflict what Faiza deliberately chooses to put across? Whatever the case, this tension hinders the dialogue between the viewer and the viewed.
Because the work is crammed full of visual images, it is almost too easy to read more into the paintings than they actually say. ln addition, it seems that Faiza does not let her audience think for themselves. Her pictures quite literally speak to the viewers, for the artist has written small captions in comic strip bubbles to guides their perception. On a painting of two women embracing, a cupid figure says, “This cant be true,” while an angel in the background falls headlong from a building. Here, Faiza is not simply directing the viewer to the lovers in the foreground. Rather, it seems that she is also passing moral judgment on them. Cupid is shocked, while the fallen angel signifies damnation is this what the artist also believes? lf so, she has failed to break away from the conventions of society and the stereotypes of womanhood that she condemns in some other other work. lf, however, cupid too is conditioned by society, then the painting eloquently poses a question that pleads to her audience for an answer.
ln most of her work, Faiza addresses her viewers, not only as an artist, but as a woman constrained to live within the framework of this society. The argument that gender types are culturally created is certainly not new; it is only Faizas approach to the subject that sometimes lends it freshness and insight. ln An Unforgettable Lunar Eclipse 2, photo etchings from Lewis Carrols Alice in Wonderland are superimposed onto a drawing of a buraq. Both Alice and the buraq are transported into other worlds, realms of magic and fantasy. But it seems that Faizas primary concern is not with Wonderland or with paintings of fantasy. Rather, Alice represents the powerless woman who has no control over the circumstances that she confronts. Whereas, the buraq has the power to manipulate her flight into the heavens. Historically, the buraq has evolved from early interpretations of sphinx-like beasts. Whether Faiza is aware of the powers of resurrection that are connected with the sphinx is not clear. In Faizas paintings, Is the western Alice resurrected into the more powerful buraq? Or is the buraq simply viewed as a fanciful image painted in gaudy colours on the back of a truck?
ln another instance, an astronaut flies in space, While a voluptuous woman sits in a bed of flowers below, echoing the phrase, “all this science that l dont understand.” The social stereotype of associating woman with nature and man with society is an age-old feminist issue that Faiza reiterates. The tension of man versus woman is perhaps too obviously executed in this work and, unlike An Unforgettable Lunar Eclipse 2, the argument here is blatantly apparent.
One of the most striking paintings in the exhibition is a small but powerful piece entitled This Happens in Autumn 2. Here, a giant pair of scissors looms over a moonlit night, while delicate flowers bloom radiantly below. ln any other context, the scissors would be an instrument of death or destruction to the flowers, but here they light up the sky with the magnificence of a moon. An image of cupid unites the two elements. An eerie symbol of castration, the scissors rise up to the sky almost like an angel or deity. Has castration become a symbol of freedom? The element of irony in this painting renders it particularly powerful.
Faizas control of her medium and her use of muted colours soften her work and divert the viewers attention from its disturbing content. In a compelling print entitled A Wedding Album 2, the elaborate detailing around the frame drives home the terror of the imagery it contains. Here, a couple sits proudly in a typical family photograph pose. The grotesque horror is that the child in the mans arms is actually his pregnant wife. This work is very different from Faizas other paintings in this exhibition, for here the intellectual content is in harmony with its visual imagery. However, in many other pieces it is the ideas that are paramount. In fact, at times they outweigh and even stifle her work, where layered images are sometimes forced one upon the other. Whether this method is seen as creative tension or coarse dishannony is up to the viewer. Her pieces, nonetheless, raise many thought provoking questions that remain unanswered.