Spiritual Affinities

DATED: 3 MAY 2008

Recently one experienced the rare phenomenon of two art luminaries, Mussarat Mirza and Meher Afroz, showing their work together at the Chawkandi Art Gallery, Karachi,in an exhibition that displayed paintings that, though entirely different in subject and style, were addressed by a strong spiritual content.

Here were artists linked by a similar, Sufi philosophy. Afroz and Mirza have grown into maturity through the process of constant work, struggle and aesthetic contemplation nurturing work of a rare quality.

Mirzas work encapsulates the seeming limitations and the spiritual vastness of her surroundings, painted as if through a hazy prisms of colour or emotion on a journey in search of light. The imagery is timeless, and one is faced with ones own inner solitude in compositions that are visual poems.

Images dissolving in light create wondrous abstraction disciplined by an exquisite palette. Mirza lives in her ancestral home in Sukkar, in the quiet of surroundings where, as a small child she gazed down from the roof top and through windows at the world outside. She works unfazed by material aspects or demands, painting from a source of depth and feeling.

Gazing at the artists work one is absorbed by subtle optimism in the narrow lanes ending in bursts of light. From the vantage of height, one perceives a panoramic view of streets and buildings. The forms that are occasionally present in the compositions, are often seen in silhouette, they appear to be travellers; pilgrims in search of illumination and profiled in shadows. Skies are streaked with incandescent shades; lightening earth toned that blend into all enveloping vapour.

Mirza, who obtained a MFA from the Punjab University Fine Arts Department in 1964, held her first solo exhibition in Karachi, 1968. Even strong sense of environmental identity. The artist retired as professor of fine art from Sindh University in 1999, and in her hometown she opened a studio where young artists are encouraged to work under her guidance. With animation she speaks of the art potential, and of her hours of thought and meditation before starting approaching the canvas.

One art enthusiast had asked if Mirzas paintings were of the landscape genre; but they are not landscapes, they are souls capes.

An international art writer wrote from New York in 2003, “The art world is having a love affair with drawing.” One might say the same of Karachi, where in recent months several collective views fused in the drama of ink, graphite and charcoal. Several young artists have produced superb examples of the discipline and among the established artists; Afrozs work is second to none. In the two-artist exhibition five graphite drawings were included, with a number of mixed media works. The Dastewaiz series carried Afrozs signature in marked and layered surfaces that ensure her presence in each and every one From a distance the images appear to be worked on plain areas of white paint, which on closer examination, proved to be surfaces animated with incised marks and myriad lines that create a personal idiom. Images were illustrated by verses composed in 1965 by Fez Ahmed Fez, which, as the artist explained, are relevant today.

The Trompe loeil three dimensional objects on the surface of the paper include nails and needles that cast shadows and are seemingly held in place by thread. Afroz employs graphite, thread, photocopy transfers, gold and silver foil and acrylic paint on Nepalese paper on surfaces of board, to create symbols that vocalise strong statements.

In a sequence of artworks from the Poshak series, Afroz explores aesthetic boundaries with contrasting symbols of stark menace – sharp needles creating an impassable path, and those of beauty, graceful hands and flowers.

The costumes dominating the surface, whether rendered in gold acrylic paint or graphite, bear the stamp of important personalities, former wearers that are an integral element of the subject. Masks, linking the work to earlier expression are no longer worn but remain held in the hand. Afrozs motifs create an awareness of complex meaning, a narrative that every observer is free to interpret according to their own experience; though the artist is a supreme presence in her work.