Subtle Interplay


The Ziggurat art gallery with its colonial architectural ambience and its young, superior-looking owner has established itself as a place where both quality and variety can be expected and obtained. The latest group show at Ziggurat represents two painters, Samina Mansuri and Naiza Khan, and three sculptors, Durriya Kazi, David Alesworth and Elizabeth Dadi.

While Samina and Naiza are exihibiting at Ziggurat for the first time, the three sculptors have shown their work before at a group exhibition held there last year. All of them are art teachers with a healthy respect for the academicism in which they are trained, and as a result the exhibition can be appreciated for several reasons besides the predominant spirit of irreverence, wit and humour that characterises it.

It was customary during the Renaissance to dispute the superiority of painting over sculpture and vice versa. According to Michelangelo, painting should approach the effect of a relief, but any relief approaching the condition of a painting should be condemned. The American sculptor Louise Nevelson, who painted wood constructions, disputed this and held that “two dimensions, the flat surface like a painting, is far superior to sculpture … there is more myth and more mystery in painting, because you have to give three dimensions to a two-dimensional pIane”. Greek sculptors painted their works and so did the great American steel sculptor, David Smith.

There are many opportunities to enioy a contrapuntal play between painting and relief in this exhibition. Samina Mansuri, for example, evokes this issue in her Thorny Bush with a heavily gouged and scratched waxed surface. The paint, instead of standing out like a crown of thorns, collapses into the surface under cruel stabs, leaving a blood-stained visual image embedded in the colour of Van Goghs yellow night.

The painting has an eponymous look, and the whorl-like movement indicated there speaks for whatever angst the artist may be harbouring in her heart. That she should stoke it further is a requirement of the style for which she has opted, a departure from her earlier work shown in Karachl last year. Cacti as a symbol seem to occupy the minds of several artists. For instance, Sadequains desert cacti became his psychic totem and led him to produce some of his greatest work.

Naiza Khan is a flat-surface artist who draws upon the time-tested methodology of Cubism from which sprang collage and its sculptural counterpart, assemblage. She plays with the space and depth of painting as well as bas relief. Between pressed, transparent plexiglass sheets she assembles her design with hand-made paper, prints and an alphabetically perforated brass sheet. There is also an ensemble of muted colours against transparent white.

The thinness and thickness of the overlapping papers contribute painterly qualities, and the jagged, irregular lines of the metal, curling cruelly this way and that, scoop out depths of their own volition. Nuts and bolts, which hold together the sheets, offer yet another potential source of myth and mystery inherent in the fiat surface. Naiza has also displayed woodcuts and etchings in which the handling of line and planes makes for interesting objectifications of image and space.

Durriya Kazi, who exhibited reliefs of warm, toasted clay a couple of years ago at the Chawkandi gallery and then moved on to make geological reliefs at Ziggurat last year, has opted for free-standing constructions such as the two armless figures combatively inclined towards each other without making any body contact. They are enclosed within an armature ol steel and tentacled with steel wires. The stumps of their arms are scorched black, and the colour of their skin is devoid of the gold and red which fires passionate kisses into terracotta. Hers is an interesting idea which needs more scale and volume to realise its full potential.

David Alesworth works in steel and was one of the most prominent artists in last years group exhibition of sculpture at Ziggurat. He draws his strength from yet another source of what Harold Rosenberg called the “tradition of the modern”. His large, impressive images of cast, forged and welded mild steel, are linear. They draw upon space for their bodies and use volume as their robes of authority. While their immediate presence can be construed as fresh and new, they echo the work of the Spanish sculptor, Julio Gonzales, who drew inspiration from the Moorish arabesque, Picasso, and David Smith. The work titled Ms D is essentially inhospitable, a Picassoesque malcontent. But history has given her domestication and this is why she looks like the beguiling face of feminism.

The last artist in the exhibition, Elizabeth Dadi, delves deep in search of new images from diverse cultural sources only to come up with artless objects with an aura of insouciance. In the last group exhibition at Ziggurat, she had created plump, round plaster objects of neutral appeal. Unlike bronze, stone and wood, these had very little myth and historical lore to contribute. What they, in fact, suggested was her interest in minimalism.

Elizabeth is once again interested in expressing her controlled detachment from this discipline through the sparing use of colour. This time it was fixed on the surface, as if aglow with mischief. ln her earlier works, the rounded objects seemed to her to symbolise machine parts from Americas industrial culture or the Mayan civilisation. What was seen, however, was something dough-like and organic. There seems to be no contradiction in this, of course, because machines were constructed upon the analogy of human parts and animal motor energy.

What Elizabeth has discovered since then is a set of very curious image-objects, scavenged from several cultural sources that have been gestating within her memory, only to be revealed now. They look like rattles that children are given to play with. Depending, however, on scale and mass, they could also become deadly weapons that the Hindu war gods and pahalwans carried on their shoulders. The objects are cast in aluminium or lead, grey being her favourite colour. She has not, however, served up a final notice on minimalism, and offers a demystifying contrast to David Ales worths heroic sculpture.

All the artists represented in the show are art teachers with a healthy respect for the academicism in which they are trained. As a result, the exhibition can be appreciated for several reasons other than the irreverence, wit and humour that characterises it.