A Cultivated Dialogue


Through khud kalami or self- dialogue, the artist can experience that rare moment of insight that peels back the layers of illusion to reveal a distraught reality. This resensitising moment has led to some of the Worlds most memorable art. Sadequains headless hero and Nagoris beaked Bhel belle are joined by Goyas huddled black figures and Munchs Scream to allow the crippled soul to surface on canvas.

For the last two-and-a-half decades, the human has been at the epicentre of Meher Afrozs creative expression. As the shifting Teutonic plates of society create a global upheaval, the soul becomes the invisible victim and her visual treatise examines the symptoms of this malaise. The subversion of traditional social practices for both sanity and survival are of particular interest to her. The earlier chapters of her oeuvre, among others include series titled Amulet, Mehvaar and Niche. In invoking the amulet or talisman, the protective devise once used against evil, she raises questions around its contemporary application. How it is adapted to further unscrupulous ambitions and illicit gains. From a prayer for spiritual well-being to material profits, its evolving trail is one of decadence and deception, creating hybrid conditions for the age-old taviz..

Through defining the niche or sacred space, once reserved for objects of religious, social or personal significance, is discussed a concept threatened by the grey that shades the area between the sacred and the profane.

Mehrs current work encompasses a lifetime of memories and experiences. In the studio she must have laboured over transferring disparate ideas onto a canvas and giving a face to intangible convictions. She is the first to confess that this exhibition at Chawkhandi is only a part of this ongoing endeavour. From the age of innocence come the etched images. Time-filtered, the fresh hues of toys and scenes are played back in grainy black and white. There is the jinn (giant) mask, a popular toy among children. The grotesque face used by children to scare each other often served as a primer, teaching one to distinguish between good and evil, thus nurturing a memory that knew only one shade of truth. Another image that inhabits the mind is the paper boat on an unknown journey against a starry sky, a dream voyage mapped only by a childs limitless imagination.

The quote Meher Afroz has selected for the card provides clues that helps the viewer to enter her esoteric art. With no popular visual gifts, her iconography is not fully accessible to those who have no understanding or affinity to her spiritual discourse. Furthering the debate on the cleansing of the spirit are symbols from the Sufic lexicon like angels, the rose, footprints, etc. And the panjtan, alam and sabeel of the Shiite beliefs that consciously or subconsciously illuminate the entry point of the path to healing. These symbols, painted and etched on the size of a small book, are deliberately presented as detached motifs, keeping their context ambivalent. Like the journey of an object into a motif and then an icon, the mind is allowed to play an important role in investing each image with meaning and significance. This process seems to echo the journey of social and religious traditions that have lost their healing energy while being mutated into meaningless ritualism. Only an engagement of the spirit can be relevant.

The conflicting duality between material and spirit emerges from Mehers unpeopled costumes. From courtly costumes to the attire of the religious hierarchy, it brings to our conscious forefront how the dress of station commands more respect than the human wearing it. This initiates a rethink on the privileges of birthright and misplaced loyalties. Placed on small easels and displayed on a shelf, the paintings create an installation that underlines the status of these empty uniforms. Working with the reverse logic of the fable The Emperors New Clothes, but carrying a similar message, the artist compels the viewer to re-evaluate fixed notions of social interaction.

Meher Afroz draws special pleasure from painting faces; they can be found throughout her oeuvre. In the earlier 80s they were often caricatured, inspired by puppets and masks. As the portrait has developed in her art so has her ability to emote through their eyes. Quite often passive expressions with animated eyes manage to unfold a saga. Sometimes these openings to the soul are also blanked over by her to indicate their lack of ability to see with the mind. Wrinkles, facial features and their distortions and, body language further enhance the visual articulation.

Infusing a spirit into the canvas is Mehers art, making her handling of the pigment and chromatic selection bear her distinct thumbprint. Never one to introduce a wide spectrum of colours, her preference is to Work with tones. Coaxing fertile textures from the limitations of her palette is a favourite – almost like taking up the challenge of working without anyhigh notes to create a soft lilting melody.

A new white and grey relationship has emerged in her recent paintings. This spawns an expressive tonal vocabulary with her own personal signature. This expertise makes her the undisputed mistress of nuance, as Meher works alchemical effects with her paints and tools. Working through layers of paint, each layer is tempered to yield the final patina in a preamble or tamheed that precedes the narrative. Not only do the layers set the mood, but they also hone the senses for the ultimate gratification of the visual image.

For Meher Afroz painting is much more than communicating an idea: it epitomises her cultural journey. The mesmerising intricacy of her textures are never random or overworked; they are calibrated, patterned into nuances with controlled strokes that resonate with traits of the artists personality. She likes to deliver her potent message in a cultivated dialogue.