Catalyst Of Change


The spaces for communication in the visual arts world are expanding day by day. The movement of Pakistani artists and art works between cities as far afield as Honolulu, Toronto and Rabat, gives us the opportunity to experience other worlds through the eyes of an artist. lndeed, the strength of their vision and measure reaffirms the stability of the diverse and evolving art scene in Pakistan today. Both Aisha Khalid and Imran Qureshi have exhibited extensively and their travels, residency experience and teaching stints have been a source of inspiration and awe amongst their contemporaries. Specifically, the launch of the Karkhana Project at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum reflects many diverse concerns: the need to expand the dialogue of contemporary miniature painting within and beyond the audiences that have followed their progress.

In this context, the current show of Khalid and Qureshis work at the Chawkandi Art Gallery in Karachi is an expression of two worlds revolving in individual spheres, albeit with a reflection of each others concerns and ideals. Qureshis current work treads a tight rope in relation to the traditions of miniature art. His irreverence can be described as a controlled bending of the rules which follows from his previous show at Chawkandi Art in 2002, where enthusiasts noted a dramatic shift in his treatment of pictorial space. In the previous work, Qureshis dismantling of the subject and its pictorial elements changed with his perceptions of a shifting political scenario and a desire to rework the language that he had been engaging with for many years.

This time around, the bubble has burst and the scale of some of the works is larger. This is a floating world, where hedges drift dangerously close to scissors that threaten to prune them further while the khaki uniform is scattered throughout space. The stitch that seems to hold this fragile world together is undone but to what effect remains to be seen.

Moreover, in Qureshis work, marks and under painting that would normally be concealed along the edge of the miniature now overlap to create the sense that disparate realities are coexistent. The blots and marks, seemingly made by a ballpoint pen, are juxtaposed against an orange colour, each layer appearing to float just above the surface. This strategy enables Qureshi to pull in imagery that exists in different timescales and the dialogue that is created allows the viewer to access multiple frames of reference.

In fact, the explosion that we witness echoes a page of Hokusais “One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji”, where the world explodes and we inevitably question the forms that will emerge through such a process. This image mirrors the realignment and configuration of our new world order and there is a sense that time will never be linear again. After all, how does a miniature painter reflect this in the framework of the traditional medium?

On the other hand, Khalids work has always bordered on the hypnotic, the abstract which emerges when the ordinary is transformed into the divine through the meticulous and intense colour fields of her palette. The image of the burqa has all but disappeared in this current body of work, leaving us to imagine its volume between the grids of pattern. What is left is the fold that opens to reverberate with a defiance to reveal while continuing to hold its own.

In Khalids five large works we see a tighter, more concentrated space that creates a surface tension which is difficult to penetrate. The shallow space accentuates the abstraction of this surface, which moves and denies flatness to an undulating form beneath. As such, the illusion of school-lined copy paper used in Khalids work defies the intricate and labour-intensive workings of the miniature process. At the same time, it highlights the nature of her comment in these works, which she has likened to comments or utterings as opposed to complete stanzas. Indeed, these visual notes contrast with the traditional notion of a miniature painting worked across the entire surface of the wasli.

In contrast, the weight of their dense patterned surfaces; Khalids latest works are playful and give room to complete the supposed single-liners that she has deliberately created. Perhaps this is another way to create a space for further intervention, a level of accommodation that the artists in the Karkhana project all recognise as being central to the development of the image.

ln fact, it seems as if the Karkhana collaboration that Qureshi initiated in 2003 has facilitated an important personal development for the two artists. It has rerouted Qureshi himself into a different orientation towards the future, both within his personal work and the directions that can be mapped out. Ultimately, as mentors of their craft, it will be important to see which directions these two artists follow.