Teaching at the Karachi Arts Council, Mehr Afroze thinks that opportunity is what artists in Pakistan lack-talent there is no dearth of … a fact amply demonstrated by the style and strength of her own work now on display at Gallery Chaukundi —- by Tehmina Ahmed. Symbols, for Mehr, are a key to ones previous existence. Traditional motifs connect the present to the past and will survive into the future. Mehr Afroze has explored the aesthetic value, the mystery and hidden meaning of primitive symbols in her previous work. In her current exhibition, this pre-occupation with symbols – breaks, into a wry social comment, a subtle reflection, of society. Mehr began to explore the symbolism of masks, and this exploration led her to the fashioning t of puppets, in a fascinating service of paintings now on display. Puppets Mehr sees basic human nature as an unchanging value across the centuries. Emotions remain the same, their expression both permitted and proscribed by the ethos prevailing in a particular society at any given time. Communication takes place through the medium of the mask. The theme of human freedom and circumvention is also symbolised by the puppet figures, its movement defined by the ambit of a particular stage. Mehr acknowledges that the mask can slip and the puppet strays from the movement prescribed by the hand pulling its strings layers of textures or scratches on masks reveal the presence of hidden emotions, striving to change the surface of the mask. The theme of her exhibition is Puppets and Masks. The graphic artist in Mehr responds to it with sure handling while the thinker enjoys its subtleties. There is expression in the expressionless of the puppets, an animation in their stillness – the arrested limbs could come to life at any time, one feels, the movement resume. Mehrs grasp of the medium is evident – there is harmony in composition and execution, and the dense working of surfaces characteristic of an artist drawn to print making, here produces multidimensional layers of texture. Silvery greens, occasional pinks and translucent blues temper the shades of brown found in Mehrs work. This is art that demands an intense involvement on the part of its viewer, an involvement that sets free the dynamics of movement in the stillness of Mehrs composition. Layers of meaning reveal themselves through the layers of texture – a social comment emerges that is pragmatic in one part, biting in another. Regrets At first encounter Mehr, the person, is almost as difficult to fathom as one of her masks. When she talks about her work in conceptual terms Mehr is a hard person to keep up with. One thing is clear. Her work involves planning, precision and discipline. Mehr is not an artist exploring an indifferent landscape, hoping to strike gold. Her own vision of reality is clear, and she transmits this vision in measured terms. This is Mehrs second solo exhibition in a period of fifteen years. Her self-censorship is obviously severe. The first solo show was held at the Rohtas gallery in Islamabad. She has exhibited at a Group Show at the Indus Gallery, at an Exhibition of Pakistani Women Artists Work held at Hawaii and at the International Triennial Exhibition inaugurated at Delhi last year. Mehr graduated in Fine Arts from the Government College of Arts and Crafts at Lucknow. Her work was shown at Lucknow and Calcutta before she migrated to Pakistan to join her family, in 1971. About this move she expresses no regrets. In the bleak landscape of Karachi she struggles on, nurturing her inner vision in an environment with meagre nourishment to offer. Teaching at the Karachi Arts Council, she expresses faith and hope in the calibre of her pupils. Opportunity, she stresses, is what artists in Pakistan lack. Talent, there is no dearth of. A fact amply demonstrated by the style and strength of her own work now on display at the Gallery Chawkundi.