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Cut and Paste

Author: Quddus Mirza      Publications: The News– Encore (p- 32)      Dated: 29 Oct 2000

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For any conscious artist, it is a constant quest to discard the habit of repeating himself and to involve new imagery/ideas. This is not an easy task (often made impossible by the ardent admirers and guiding galleries). Many artists adopt different approaches and seek various methods to bring about the change- either through medium, material and scale or in content.

Afshar Malik, a renowned painter and print-maker, for a number of years has been working with a predictable and identifiable set of images, through changing his mediums. It is only in his recent work, currently being exhibited at Chawkandi Art in Karachi, that he seems to be abandoning his usual visual material. In his case, the transformation in the imagery is a result of an ordinary article: a pair of scissors. For his new works, he cuts small pieces of paper to create his images. These portions of paper are glued to the board, sometimes overlapping each other. Later the whole surface is smeared with black or brown colour. Then the paint is wiped off the board, leaving the outlines of dark colours on the edges of the pasted paper. A number of colours are applied afterwards to make certain forms prominent or fill the background.

Many works have a combination of discernible forms and non-figurative shapes. All of these elements follow a specific layout. The flowing forms are contained within a rectangle which is inside a border. Both the edge and the central part are separated through a change in colour, size and nature of objects. The borders function as boundaries of the city, as most of the large paintings are constructed/conceived like cityscapes, suggesting blocks of buildings, doors, windows and bricks. In comparison to these, the smaller works have more open formats.

Afshar Malik is among those who prefer recognizable imagery. His prints, drawings, paintings and sculptures are based on his personal narrative, defined by the figures and elements of landscape. His imagery has been linked with child-like/naive art. This type of image-making has been evident in his previous prints, paintings, and works on tiles, ceramic sculptures and pastel drawings. At times, instead of an expression it turns into a manner. (This can be observed in the calligraphy prints shown in the present exhibition).

It is in the recent body of work that the child-like vision has found its appropriate mode of expression. A childs enjoyment in cutting paper suits the way Malik sees his subjects. The cutting of paper with a pair of scissors is normally considered a mechanical method, bound to produce geometric or elementary cut-outs. While other artistic materials like brushes, pencils and pastels are regarded to have more potential. In fact, artists practices have another relation to these notions.  Familiar mediums often become mechanical tools. ln contrast, non-conventional materials offer the possibility of generating fresh concepts and new working methods. Afshar explores the creative capacities of this mundane tool and treats it in a very personal manner to make lyrical and am orphic forms.

Afshars recent paintings have many traits common to print-making. The artist uses a wide range of colours, but the choice of hues and underneath tones imbibe multiple colours into a uniform vision; His tactile surfaces remind a viewer of etching plates. Apart from these, the method of putting colour on board is similar to the process of inking the plate. The actual making of the painting has an echo in the technique of calligraphy: of preparing the plate by pasting various objects and textures on the card board. “Based on my experiences of print-making, ceramics and painting, Ive explored a new medium, a way of drawing by cutting paper. Lts a bridge between printing inks and acrylics, of calligraphy plate-making, of burnishing and ink wiping,” the artist says.

Most of the works in the show display the artists fascination with fabricating a personal world; dominated by humans and animals. Along with faces, beasts have also been drawn in many of his creations. The manner of creating these images opens up a new dimension in his work. Occasionally, the small pieces of paper are joined to delineate the animals. ln various paintings, these small shapes become the most important components of the picture and cover major areas of compositions. These swirling forms cannot be deciphered as objects, and acquire their own identity and significance.

Through these non-descriptive forms, Afshar challenges our attitude of trying to read the meaning of every shape. As it is a custom to associate and perceive faces, figures and animals on stones, clouds, peeling plaster and cracking walls. This is done to the extent that children see an old woman with a spinning wheel in the moon (and the face of the beloved when they grow up). In contrast to these practices, forms in Afshars work stand as independent shapes, not resembling any element in the nature or a man-made object.

This shift from the narrative substance to the abstract/nonrepresentational vocabulary (more visual than illustrative) is a good change for Afshar, and is significant for the art of this country.