Moghul Melange


The work of Askari Mian Irani, who teaches in the NCAs design department, has somehow always managed to be much more than mere design. His canvases, more often than not, convey a strange sense of ancient mysteries and always hint at further visual revelations. Askaris new work at Karachis VM Gallery is both a disappointment as well as a relief. It is disappointing in that much of the new explorations and experimentation is unimpressive. It is a relief in that it shows that Askari has not become stuck in the rut of producing single-formula pictures.

Much of the new work uses elements of Mughal painting and illustration. Often these stock figures are clumsily drawn and they are painted in the flat linear style of their originals – a treatment that does not really harmonise with Askaris own propensity for dramatic lighting.

A synthesis of these two elements is however, achieved in the marvellous Naqh-e-Hub where Mughal posture and architecture becomes subservient to the mood of the picture, and these work as part of an image rather than as obvious prototypes.

Indeed, it is where Askari can subjugate these motifs to his own expression and style that the exercise succeeds. For example, Sarqash aur Shahzada, which makes very obvious use of Mughal illustrations, is flat and unimpressive. However, Naqash-e-Fatha which also makes use of the classical horse-rider figure is markedly different in that it is visually intriguing and conveys a frantic sense of speed and movement.

The rest of the work consists of geometric motifs, hints of the abjad, of magical spells and dues and religion-mystical motifs like the hand of Fatima. The treatment is competent and the colours gleam like polished jewels.

With the exception of the Mughal reproductions, this exhibition is a fine example of a painter successfully reinterpreting and using elements of indigenous Indo-Islamic design.