City Scrape


“Cityscapes are intriguing in that they both carry and efface the traces of history” – (Decolonizing Diyarbakir) Zeynep Gambetti.

Visiting ones school after normal school hours is like watching the bustling city at dawn or being in a place left vacant by all living creatures after war or a site of atomic explosion or being amid archaeological ruins excavated after centuries.

This is perhaps how our cities, with all kinds of buildings, will be discovered in another age after some catastrophe in the near or far future. Possibility of this ghost town has turned into a reality in the recent works of Samina Mansuri, Her digital prints portray imaginary places that are devastated through abandonment, war and bombardment. The artist has constructed metallic models of urban settings, with avenues, paths, residences, building complexes and open spaces, which suggest the presence of congested cities. Mansuri, like Jorge Luis Borges (his short story of fantastical towns Tlon, Uqbar, Oebis Tertius), has named these fantasy locations as Tararatiie, Garbarabidae, Cedibidaee, Mukiirati and others with similar sound-effects.

In its structure, this cityscape resembles the internal parts of a complicated machinery more so because of the metallic grey tone of the components. Looking at these forms, which are eventually photographed from a higher point, much like Google earth pictures, and displayed in her solo exhibitions (Dec 8-18, 2009 Chawkandi Art, Karachi and January 5-9, 2010 Rohtas 2, Lahore), one realises the rapid industrialisation of our society and its effect on our urban culture. It would be relevant to remember that the artist, after spending several years in Karachi where she taught at the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture and emerged as one of the leading painters of her generation, has now moved to Canada. Her previous experience of living in New York, and the recent exposure to another part of North America, may have contributed towards considering and conceptualising the city being a blend of steel and concrete, and devoid of human presence and warmth.

The digital prints of Mansuri denote something else. Shadow of an alien object looming on the landscape and the stream of dark red hue with ashes indicate the aftermath of a conflict. Broken-down pieces and disrupted parts of installation signify violence that has hit the imaginary city: Almost a narrative of our time and of future times.

In the past, Samina Mansuri has produced canvases with painterly quality. These surfaces reflect a sensitive approach towards the medium and the message. Her work during the midnineties was marked with loosely-laid layers of paint, rendering organic shapes, which alluded to cruel realities. Internal organs and thorn-like forms frequently appeared in her paintings from that period. In the present set of works, executed in a different genre and employing a new technique, one can still detect her pictorial concerns regarding pain and misery. Pain that was initially connected to physical body has new spread to society as a whole. The current decay of our sense of security – both because of outsider instigator and internal perpetrators is documented and hinted at in her prints.

Actually the works of Mansuri confirm an artists concerns as connected to her time and locale even if she has migrated from her country of origin. Interestingly the work is not limited to one location or incident. Her aesthetics transform these sites into an idea of destruction which may belong to any region of modern times, since the effect of violence is visible from the air – a view that is possible only in this age.

The artists shift from painting to digital mode of expression is an important aspect of her aesthetics. In fact, both the stages – of making models of the cities and then photographing these in a ruined state – complement each other. The two gestures relate to the instinct that first builds human habitat and as so: as it is established, begins the annihilate it. This combination of creative and destructive tendencies, in man, imp aptly illustrated in these works which are basically mini-towns, erected for the sole purpose of demolition. Hence, the range of these prints conveys the primordiaurge and motive of man; see on an elementary level in childs play, when he companies a structure with blocks and as soon as it is completed disarranges it.

Undoubtedly, the recent prints are a shift from the painterly surfaces. Yet these confirm that despite the change of material and method, Samina Mansuri, mindful of the role of consciousness in formulating her imagery. Her link with her homeland, despite a distance of thousands of mile is maintained, rather roots deeply.