AUTHOR: SALWAT ALI
This is the age of the visual and the increasing role of visual images in our society now necessitates increasing skills in the reading and understanding of those images.
We live in a largely mediated world ruled by government media monopolies or commercial media concerns that construct images of the other. Promotion of particular ideas, commodities and identities are the main preoccupations of the commercial and government systems and they tend to exacerbate international tensions by dichotomising, dramatising, and demonising them against us. This has made the use and control of visual power a major quandary of contemporary society.
If we desire to distinguish between the real environment and the pseudo-environment, sketched and delivered by the mass media, it is important to examine the role which various media play in creating the images which impact our lives: how visual images create a language with profound psychological meaning, and how print, television, and film media manipulate images to create desired emotional effects.
An exhibition of digital prints After Images-from the ASH archive 2007-09` by Samina Mansuri, at Chawkandi Art, Karachi, references this crisis of representation to explore visual subtleties through such areas as digital manipulation of aerial views, camera attitudes, and contextual framing, as well as the social consequences of image as an abstract concept expressed in concrete visual terms.
Her current artistic practice is interdisciplinary. Using a variety of materials like wood, metal, plastic, clay, sand powdered pigments, foam, modelling clay felt and acrylic paint, she creates multi-media installations that work across the mediums of architectural/sculptural sets, painting, video and digital photography.
Appropriating media coverage of conflict centred areas such as Afghanistan, Lebanon, Iraq and Pakistan as well as the Twin Towers and places like New Orleans, ravaged by natural disasters, Mansuri builds her own trajectory of imaginary locations that mimic the ethos of tragedy associated with these sites.
“Many of the images one sees on the news are aerial views of a specific place. Aerial views tend to provide viewers with a detached sense of actual place. Through a transformed language of aerial cartography I create subjective mappings of an ambiguous location of trauma,” she explains and adds, “I am presenting public sites of violence and trauma to address traumatic loss not simply as an isolated and individual process but as a global one.
“Viewers around the world are simultaneously detached consumers as well as mediated witnesses to trauma of a place they have not experienced firsthand. I document these sculptural sets in digital photographs and video and dispense with the actual sets as I am interested in the mediated image.”
A conventional interpretation of the aerial view is that it is a cipher for social superiority: disdain is expressed in the figure of speech to look down upon, a phrase that conjures the historical figure of the aristocrat in his carriage peering at the peasant, but in recent years the concept of the aerial view has gained a new centrality- as both an object of criticism and an interpretative tool.
As against the close-up image which gives a personalised account, the aerial view because of its distanced sighting supports anonymity and detachment. The on-the-ground perspectives of television news cameras, as well as aerial images together provide the dual vantage points that increasingly are used to manage global crises and media events: the human tragedy at close range and the long-range impression from afar that unhinges it from reality and dilutes or alters its impact.
With her fabricated aeria views of fictional locations Mansuri substitutes media generated images of war zones with a haunting psychological terrain. She recreates sites of distress but in an impersonal context and this double take of further digitalising the already manipulated image mocks a the authenticity of reality.
In giving the viewer a taste of how the media spin can refine the image or layer in with multiple meanings Mansuris art addresses he premise of questioning the validity of the image. Yet at the same time, it stands independently as an aesthetic exercise in its own right.
Viewed out of context the artists abstracted aerial views evoke the metaphysical inspired by the real and the palpable, yet consciously fictitious, her meticulously grafted landscapes speak of a rigorous art practice that focuses in tensely on the changing order of existence in this world.