AUTHOR: S. AMJAD ALI
PUBLICATIONS: ART ROUNDUP
Chawkandi Art Gallery has often provided Lahore artists with a venue to display their work and the latest is a two-person show of the NCA artists, Salima Hashmi, Principal, and Anwar Saeed who teaches print making. Salima studied here from 1960- 62 and completed her art studies at Bristol in 1965. However, taken up with many other creative and cultural activities, she could not hold her first solo exhibition till 1980.
Anwar Saeed graduated from the NCA in 1978 and become prominent as a painter since 1980 onward. So, despite disparity in seniority, they can said to belong to one group.
There couldnt be a more contrasting two-person show of paintings. Salimas work is feminine, flimsy, feathery, airy- fairy and formless. The only form is a dainty, long-stemmed lily discerned within a heavy rain of dots and dashes that covers most of the picture area. The nearest she comes to form is rolling clouds of smoke. She also uses sometimes a plant form at base whose leaves rise symmetrically left and right.
For the rest, it is all tonal variation of light greys and light pink, amber, yellow, orange, and even white areas, all stippled densely or sparsely with minute or slightly bold dots and dashes.
What other object can one expect in such a world? All the pictures have titles from the verses of her father, Faiz Ahmed Faiz. In this poetical world, one can only expect a few flower petals to be floating down or a glow of light making a patch in the colour, Only on the peripheries does a dash of red or orange enliven the general grey tonality.
The exotic, green-house, fanciful atmosphere is enhanced by the strange mixed media used: e.g., tempera, tea wash, paste or pigment on board.
As befits a poetical creation, all the linear and tonal movements are rhythmic, all curves, arcs and crescents. But the touch of modernity also is essential. So there are sometimes used space divisions with vertical lines, even thin white strips.
There is one very large painting on show which makes clear all of Salimas artistry as there she has used every weapons in her armoury – vertical panels of amber, pink and pale green, long weeds at bottom right, sprouting like a fountain, a line of flimsy clouds sailing at the top. Its a sparse, super-refined, rarefied, light-coloured world, much of which is see-through, rhythmic, poetical and feather-light.
Anwar Saeeds paintings, by contrast, have human figures as subjects and these are depicted in cold, hard, firm line and flat colour. There is no fuzziness, haziness or tonal variation to create soft, dreamy or poetical effects. In fact, the artist has consciously avoided prettiness both in the subject and the style of painting.
The men who make up the content of the paintings are stocky, dark and unprepossessing. Shown mostly in profile, standing stiffly with arms hanging on sides, they are ritualistic and formal drawings and paintings.
Though the rendering of the figures is dead formal and matter of fact, they are placed in fantastic situations that are not only unreal but disbursing and disconcerting.
For example, there is the picture for three men, of whom two are normal men, wearing ordinary clothes, while the third is dressed in an aura, watching a fourth other-worldly being who is just growing a small wing. The faces of all the men are dead pan expression less, inhumanly so.
Even more perturbing and perplexing is the other picture in which a winged man, in brief loin cloth, is playing a violin. He is looking through a door at some amorphous being that appears behind a door as a splash of water made up of droplets. By enclosing this within a dotted outline, the artist emphasises it as an identity.
It is easier to discuss the paintings printed here than the rest of the sixteen on display. All probe and paint certain forms of being far removed from our ordinary way of life and some lurking within it.
Like theres one painting in which a man playing a violin is looking through a haze at another. The haze is supposed to be the haze of habit or indifference resulting from familiarity.
In the painting Night Zone, a man and woman are clasping each other while in the night sky above, a white Buraq (heavenly winged man-horse creature) is seen flying. All these paintings are inroads into unknown worlds of being and especially mysterious aspects lurking within our own daily life. It is an effort to explore the reality beyond the visible and the common place.
Nahid Raza, whose solo exhibition will begin from Friday, November 6, at the Indus, is one of our leading artists, and she has been exhibiting since 1969. At that time she was in the final year at the Central Art Institute, Karachi, but she entered a painting in the annual art exhibition of the Karachi Arts Council and won the prize for the best entry.
So she has been an active and very productive painter for thirty years. She has held more than two dozen solo exhibitions and participated in numerous group shows at home and abroad.
It has been wonderful to watch her grow from the tentative painter of the Chawkhandi Tombs stone carvings, in free painterly style, to the brash painter of the universe, the world of sun and moon, stars and planets.
Finding soon that the subject was intractable, she wisely decided in 1989 to start painting human and figurative subjects. Her works become thematic and purposeful. Since then she has been the champion of suppressed and oppressed women.
After ten years of crusading, she has paused and changed her tack. In the paintings now on display, she has relaxed and broadened the scope of her paintings. Woman is still the theme but not simply as a suffering victim. She is now looking at her in her diverse roles as mother, daughter, wife and even just as an independent person in her own right.
That was all about the subject of her paintings but that is the least part. It is what she does with the colours, what forms she creates, what compositions she invents that is far more important.
Right from the beginning the appeal in her paintings lay not in the subject but in the many-layered and heavily textured colours that she used. She also becomes known for the ingenious compositions in which the picture space was divided and subdivided into squares and various other rectangles with borders.
lt was really abstract work, though the figures gradually became more prominent and better drawn. However, even now, rarely is a figure central and prominent and fully worked out. There is only one such in this exhibition, Mother with child in lap.
Some of the figures are just smudges of colour. She rarely deigns to use the line and then makes the linear treatment as offhand as possible. Mostly the treatment of the figures is tonal and not linear.
She is not dividing the picture space so much as before but still likes to place the figure within a square or a rectangle. She is using narrow bands or rectangles on the sides of the painting. Another new feature is that she is making a long row of small windows on the top and these are supposed to suggest possible openings, avenues, hopes. A rather odd new feature is the use of small tabs she is using like tacks to pin up the picture on the wall, as it were. Or the person or scene is being thus held up on show.
She is at her best in the use of colour, which she uses thick, dark and contrasting, playing light colours against dark. Her favourite colour still is dark red and orange, which long ago, gave many the impressions of red hot embers. The embers are still smouldering hot.