Doing What Their Perceptions Tell Them


KARACHI: Its a rather, unusual exhibition, showing the work of two young artists who are trying to reshape the world according to their own perceptions: one is ready to dissect the female body just to highlight her head, while the other one is exploring the Sufistic philosophy of “Mun tu Shudi” as the only panacea for human alienation. It opened last week at Chawkandi Art.

The two graduates from the Pratt institute, Brooklyn, New York: Samina Mansuri and Julianne Pagano, both of them are now teaching at the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture, have chosen rather off the beat subjective contents: Samina is obsessed with a metamorphosical mission just to prove her point, while Pagano, with her Western sensibility, is seeking the remedial medicine for human alienation in the Sufistic philosophy of “Mun tu Shudi”. Both have to say a lot and both have used their different vocabularies to expound their views. This joint exhibition happens to be their first show in Pakistan, though both have already exhibited abroad in various prestigious art galleries.

Samina Mansuri enters in her paintings as an analyst, who examines and challenges the prevailing myths about the female (species, a much exploited being as a sexual object. Two legs dominate her canvas, while a female head is severed, lying in the background, a statement which is too obvious to be misunderstood.

Her work may not be the product of self-obsession, yet it is intensely auto-biographical, as she herself puts it.

These paintings are very personal, conveying as they do the real reflection of her inner conflict; living in a world which has massed up all the priorities to suit the male dominated order. Thus, she is forced to reinvent her own version of truth to fit her perception of womanhood.

Dressed in a typical Greenwich Village bohemian style, Samina shows all the guts to establish herself as an artist of views, a cerebral painter.

In fact, artists in the East as well as in the West preferred to concern themselves with the body alone – voluptuous curve, rhythm, flesh, skin, ignoring deliberately her “brainy self”. Greeks made Venus and worshipped her physical attributes. Hindus wrote Kamasutra and carved goddesses on the walls of Khajuraho. Similarly other theologians projected woman as a vehicle of procreation, just and desire. Even in the contemporary context, the debate on the naked and the nude revolves essentially round the curve curiosity.

Samina wants to change all this and tries to establish, with specific reference to women, the supremacy of mind over body, one of the slogans which feminists raised against the exploitation of the female figure in the advertisements the world over. In the process, Samina explores the deepest fears which haunt a modern woman and despite the brave face she is putting up, she remains a frightened person caught in the strait jackets of conventional morality so audaciously prepared by men. She is persistently seeking for a new woman, a place in the sun, for her cerebral existence.

ln her highly personal compositions, she has to rely heavily on the surrealistic approach where she moves near the lines between the reality and fiction (wishful thinking and day dreaming) and between fiction and illusions, just to expose the existing reality.

Samina had to paint truncated portions of the female body to project her views. For example, she eliminates the torso and down, keeping just two legs which dominate the canvas in her painting displayed prominently in the Gallery.

The legs are juxtaposed amidst pomegranates, a seedy fruit with immense reproductive potentials. The head is laying in the background, establishing the fact that it is the body which is needed, not the brain.

Within this thematic cycle, Samina creates variations, both in terms of images and shades of opinion. Invariably the overriding motif is woman who is not a sexual deva, but a thinking being. However, its an interesting journey of self-discovery which in her case ends up in a blind alley.

The paintings are too self-conscious to convey more than a surface impression. There is a routine in the clear-cut descriptive realism arranged in a surrealistic genre.

Her bold sensuous use of colours can be attributed to the influence of Indian miniatures, though her frames becoming part of the compositional totality have a direct link with the Mughal School.

Because of Saminas intense training in graphics and design, the overall patterns of her paintings, despite their surrealistic structure, have been defined precisely.

The other artist Julianne Pagano, after taking her initial training in the traditional European art at Odense, Denmark, took Honours from the Pratt Institute. Because of some visa problems, she could not attend the opening of her exhibition here.

Pagano is too subtle and refined and carries her theme of melancholy and human alienation in the garb of buoyancy and gaiety, a paradoxical device to highlight the inner meaning.

Her “chattering girls” are drowning their misery in their high volume din. Lemon trees and hibiscus flowers make an appropriate slitting for two isolated bodies seen merging into an indivisible whole. There is desperation as well as total surrender, in a mystic sense. She is the cerebral being Samina is looking for.