Life In An Urban Setting

DATED: 11 APR 1998

Dashing colour, fragmented symbols, and elongated heads set on long necks and primitive figures, jostle for space in the frenetic canvases of Moeen Faruqi at the Indus Gallery. Walls newly painted a pearly white, the gallery is showing a collection of about fifty paintings marking Moeens fourth solo exhibition to date. Exhibiting his work since 1990, the artist has participated in several group displays and was one of the artists chosen to represent Pakistan at the Asian Art Biennale, Dhaka in 97.

Calling in at the Indus before the exhibition, I found the artist considering the best way to hang the artwork, while S. Ali Imam was systematically sorting out various accoutrements that go with an art display. The lovable artist Tassadaq Sohail, getting ready to fly away, wandered in and out, delighted by the response to his recent show. It seems the town cant get enough of Sohails eccentric philosophy. Putting aside his work, Imam spoke of art in general. He declared that Wahab Jaffer had done as much for art as the Indus Gallery. How? By continuously changing the paintings hanging on his walls. Thus, visitors to his home are offered the opportunity to view varied collections of artwork from artists, old and new. In the absence of a national gallery with permanent collection or a museum of art, Wahabs collection has enabled numerous art enthusiasts to trace the development of art in Pakistan from his collection.

The oldest existing gallery in Karachi, established in 70, the Indus Gallery is an institution. Its greatest attraction is S. Ali Imam himself, who is always ready to drop whatever he happens to be doing to discuss art and artists with his visitors.

Moeen Faruqi, who held his first solo exhibition at the Indus Gallery in 93, has travelled far in the ensuing years. Gone are the saucy comments on the neighbours, aka society. The secret imaginings and aspirations of suburban youth have given way to irony, a satiric vision that alludes to the structure of society including the voyeurism existing in everyday life and the stifling interest shown by Other People. Without formal training in art, Moeen is bold and experimental in his approach. He distorts form, plays with colour. Infused in the artists work are traces of abstraction, cubism and non-figurative mingling with figurative aspects. One finds a link with the philosophy of the Die Brucke group Faruqi is a writer, a published poet and an educationist, concerned with lack of art teaching in local schools.

The cacophonous nature of the paintings reflects facets of his own surroundings. As on the canvas juxtaposed forms struggle for space, so the artist juggles with precious time, compartmentalized hours in which to contain his prismatic schedule.

A modern man facing the multifarious problems of town living, the pervasive ties of tradition are hard to ignore, fragmented images surface unexpectedly on busy surfaces. There are faces that reflect the stylistic poses of Jain miniatures, three-quarter angled with an eye frontally arranged. In Moeens paintings, it is the mouth that stands out of the three quarter pose. Clay coloured, primitive forms as fashioned by early civilizations are seen, while a tamed animal appears from time to time, like the foil of the heroine in the earliest literature of the subcontinent. Moeens handling of colour is uninhibited, but bright fragments are often contained by heavy outlines which weight them down, restricting their instinct to fly. The layered diverse patterns are seen over and within a shifting space, falling and flying in a chaotic cosmos.

The alternating periods of ascendance power circulating around gender is sketched in. Females appear to exploit fully the power that lies in passive resistance; the turned head, closed body language, assumed – or real – indifference, the ultimate weapon in human relationships. The crowded canvases evoke a sense of controlled urgency, normalcy attempted in genre clichés, the still-life, organic matter, and a centrally placed scarlet heart. There is ambivalence, in the artists work that speaks of tragicomedy. Inertia in the mask-like faces resounding with colour amid the uneasy backgrounds. The work is at the same time spontaneous and manipulated. Often there is an underlying tension of powerful sensuality channelled into gamesmanship, the no-holds-barred battle for supremacy that spices up many a hurndrum coupling. There are teasing scenarios – more concerned with parody than angst.

The Courtship shows a woman posing elegantly, who turns her face away from her suitor her complacent expression back up by the shoulders not touching.