AUTHOR: MOEEN FARUQI
In Mehr Afrozs art, a painting becomes a potent symbol of the passing of traditions, the forfeiture of spiritualism and belief, and the ultimate abandonment of innocence to modernism. Each work at her exhibition at the Chawkandi Art gallery, from the 30th of this month, speaks through images, lamenting the loss of a whole way of life.
Mehrs Work is always a visual experience. Each painting tends to become, while attempting to capture the past, an object of history itself. Her acrylic and mixed media works become faded, potently aged items of history. One gets the feeling that one is looking at the fast, not through, literal or illusionistic images, but through symbols, items once revered, but now too easily dismissed as jaded objects from a quaint past.
What Mehr Afroz attempts is a difficult thing. How can one use images and icons from temples, parchments and miniatures without making shallow copies? How to recreate a past devoted to belief, traditions and the innate power of amulets? That, precisely, is the success of Mehr Afroz.
Her latest repertoire is labelled the Amulet series, and refers to the veneration of amulets in the past. The amulet is just one object, among many objects and traditions that in the past people imbued with great power be it of spiritualism, superstition, or good fortune. The point being that we have lost too easily a way of life that was the norm for centuries, in which belief, rather than cold rationality was what gave life charm, respect meaning.
The success of Mehr Afroz is in being able to create remarkably sensitive paintings. Made of acrylic and metallic paints and other assorted media, they spread out in front of the viewer a potent field of subtle. Shades, full of symbols, icons images and inscriptions. What gives her paintings power is that her images are not directly lifted, but are made to be sensitive and imaginative parts of the whole painting? The painting, with its myriad lines, frames and images, is not loud; it does not demand attention. Yet the work will not be ignored.
Embedded with figures from temples, folk motifs from all religions, the sun, moon and a multitude of other patterns, the works throb with power. Each painting becomes a minefield studded with social and historical commentary. Not so much the direct cynicism of prose or realistic painting, but the subtle and imaginative description of a very thoughtful artist. This is what makes Mehr a very important artist: the baring of her own feelings, which disturb chords of familiarity in all of us.
We have lost the value of symbolism. The power, the divine allusions of symbols in our own artistic heritage. Mehr laments this loss, and expresses it with tremendous imagination in her work.
Hers is not the first attempt to resolve this loss in her art. Zahoor-ul-Akhlaque has strived to express the loss of tradition. Mehrs recent work is however more meaningful and captures the spirit and soul of traditional life with great imagination. The fine detail, the pseudo inscriptions, simulating the Indic and at times the Arabic script, calls forth the magnetism associated with the sight of the written word.
Each symbol is not an ethnic or nationalistic possession, but has universal equivalents. A figurine from a Hindu temple expresses in its own way an allusion towards the divine, just as a Sufis verses carry hidden meanings of the eternal. There is in Mehrs art a sense of universal loss, the loss of shared traditions, though they may be different in form. Each work of Mehrs has its own idiosyncrasies, its own personality. The metallic paint provides the permanence of amulets. The soft shades emulate aged manuscripts. The frames and the geometric shapes are universal symbols of the different facets of human life.
Modernism pursues the destruction of the traditional with an assiduous energy. Mehrs art is the artist way of calling for renewed respect for our natural and traditional socio-cultural environments, or at least feeling a sense of loss. The dancing figure in one little frame within a dazzling yet subtle white background, is a figure from a temple perhaps, calling for a return to traditional ways. The small geometric symbols, with their precision and beauty, are reflections of sub-continental art forms. With these tiny, detailed symbols and the inscriptions, Mehrs parchments resemble a spiritual route map, a metaphysical dreamscape, an other-worldly delight. Each painting draws the viewer ever deeper into its depths, its many layers, its hidden textures. Mehr recreates the past with masterful paintings which deserve to be seen and felt with great patience and reverence.