Between The Lines


Currently on show at Karachis Chawkaridi Gallery, is Naiza Khans first solo exhibition. In more than 30 paintings, woodcut prints and charcoal drawings on display, Naiza uses the human body to explore concepts of space and line, colour and form.

Naiza Khan studied at the Wimbledon School of Art and Oxford University. Shes_had group shows at Ziggurat, the American Centre, and The National Gallery in Islamabad. In the UK she has exhibited her work at the Young Unknowns Gallery and at the Smiths and Bluecoat Galleries, among others. Currently she teaches print making at the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture.

Naiza Khan defines the female body by lines, hundreds of free moving charcoal and paint strokes that seem to both describe the body and destroy it. In the oil paintings, the female nude is a nondescript figure. It semis to be moving rapidly, while dissolving into space, with lines, always the lines implying gestures and action, in the wake of its movement. The net result is a pink and white blur, with white, red, black marks emanating from this form. Crucially, the form would not be discernable but for the background.

The ground, the large expanse of dull colour, is vital to her work. It defines the chamber in which the model poses, and also offers depth and space, as well as the volume of the figure.

A heavy impasto of white gleams from the ruddy flesh, adding life to the form. The paintings need not just to be seen, but also felt, according to the artist. The breaking, exploding figures suggest the violent destruction of the body. The blurred form hides the figures nudity, yet hides nothing. The figure is seen in different instants, and provides therefore not just contrast of colour but also of time.

Naizas exhibition relies for its success largely on the exquisite charcoal drawings. “It is the actual act of drawing that forces the artist to look at the object in front of him, to dissect it in his minds eye, and put it together again”, suggests the essayist John Berger. Where before there was a blank sheet, a figure slowly emerges. The drawings are as much the process of this birth as the final image.

The technique can be applied to bring out meaning, as in the triptych All the Worlds a Stage, in which bodies are piled high like meat, with plainly visible surgical marks. In another, shrouded women sit in a group, anonymous, sharing grief. The drawings may be inspired by the Bosnian tragedy, but mirror the grief of an age. The working drawings included in the show, are sketchy, hastily done studies for the triptych; they add no meaning, and were better left out.

Naizas colour woodcuts are more playful, without the seriousness of the charcoal drawings. The colour adds levity, providing an interesting contrast to the sombre charcoal works. Nevertheless, the colour print is not as strong and forceful as the monochrome woodcut.

If there is a recurring theme in Naizas exhibition. it is the nude female form. Sensuality is evident everywhere. Flesh and body, movement and gestures are distinctly sensual even when diffused. In the water colour painting, Embraces, two blurred but obviously nude figures hold each other. Paintings such as The Room, and The Window, play with interior geometry. However, the size of the water colour paintings is much too small. and with the softness of the waterbased colours. Naizas major strengths are not utilised. The water colours have little impact, and cant compare with the force of the oils and the charcoal drawings.

One of Naizas strongest pieces is the Three Graces collage. Three forms, headless (her figures never reveal their faces), stand together, in a highly textured, patterned environment. Dense black colour contrasts sharply with while. Black lines stress the act of drawing, of quick, spontaneous strokes mixed with studied lines. Finally the collage element, the juxtaposing of figures from different sources, adds immediacy.

What this exhibition does best of all is display the immense energy and talent of the artist. The exhibition is really a show of all the different media the artist can masterfully work with. However, a concentration in one direction, so essential to break new ground, is missing.