The Battleground That Is Life

DATED: 25 NOV 1 DEC 1999

Chawkandi Art has succeeded in bringing about the welcome collaboration of two distinguished artists, Meher Afroz and Mussarat Mirza. The unusual alliance which brings together approximately forty paintings is certain to interest art enthusiasts of all generations. Sharing a rare aesthetic refinement, neither of these artists is seen overly in the exhibition. While Meher may show a collection of artworks on an average of once in four years, she does participate in important group shows. Mussarat, who graduated from the Punjab University with an MFA degree in the early sixties, has been a member of the faculty of the Sindh University since its inception in 1970. Presently she heads the fine arts department.

Her work was first seen in Karachi in a solo exhibition held in 1968, when she displayed a collection of paintings titled “Dust and Desert”. The paintings reflected childhood views of Sindh as seen from a window of her home in Sukkur, or from the flat rooftop. Mysterious vistas in tones of purple and green tinted grays. Through the years, Mussarat acquired the reputation of a sensitive and significant painter, keeping a tenuous link with the local art scene through infrequent appearances in group shows. Yet the demand for her work persisted. She is sought after by curators and organizers of various art events who take pride in including the artists work in major exhibitions.

In 1986, Mussarat surprised art circles with a change of mood when she exhibited a collection of vibrant, abstract watercolours. Now reaffirming her work, she returns to her original concerns with the landscape of her birthplace, a contemporary frame of reference and the nature of paint. Mussarats current work strikes a fine balance between abstraction and imagery. Painting the traditional mud- houses of villages in Sindh, her focus often echoes the creed of Constable as documented in his memoirs: “l never saw an ugly thing in my life for let the form of an object be what it may, light shade and perspective will always make it beautiful… ”

ln Mussarats paintings, the richness of oils structures the work through mellow colouration. lmperceptibly colours overlap, earth shades, greys, suggestions of green and lilac shades are particled with history. Hers is a timeless Sindh, unchanged through generations. The simple mud structures of the rural interior are home to a firmly rooted people and transient pigeons. Most of the paintings in display are of exteriors, shadowed walls one tone darker than the sky, the landscape seemingly dominated by the dust which ultimately reclaims all. There are few people in Mussarats paintings; she is drawn to narrow, partially seen lanes leading to unknown destinations; explores the shapes of simple configurations; watches the birds, and muses on unseen humans living their lives between four walls. A glimpse of an inner space and its inhabitants is pared down to its very essence. ln the glow of a lamp, a woman sits on a charpoy, absorbed in teaching her young son from a written page. A small girls form is seen, illuminated by the same light. There are no other artifacts to distract us, no fripperies or frills to diminish the tandems of the scene.

A lighter mood is evoked in a large painting which comes to life through the presence of a gorgeous, marmalade cat. The bright, orange fur gleams vividly against the subdued shades of the furnishings. Stretched out and comfortably filling the chair, he is the king of hearts. Mussarat likens the ceilings of the simple mud dwellings she paints as “floating prayers”. Windows as “dreams, some lit, some deserted; the stairs leading to an ever-changing battleground of life.”

Painter and printmaker, Meher Afroz graduated in Fine Arts from the Government College of Art, Lucknow, in 1971 and two years later was a lecturer at the Central Institute of Arts and Crafts in Karachi. In spite of the lack of printmaking facilities in the country, the artist persisted in her discipline, creating such an unusual and exciting body of work that others began to follow her lead. The expertise and sensitivity of her work in graphics earned her national awards in 1976 and in 1980.

In 1987, Afroz held a major exhibition of paintings arid etchings in Karachi, the subject expressed her concerns with the flux of individual identity, a theme approached through geometric shapes and a profusion of exquisite textures. Afroz continued to show her work at intervals but her major involvement was with experimentation where she mixed chemicals with her media.

A founder faculty member of the Indus Valley School, Afroz recently opened a printmaking workshop of her own. Her work has been exhibited abroad in several major exhibitions and she has travelled widely, adding to her experience and representing Pakistan at international art events.

ln her present series displayed at Chawkandi Alt, Afroz continues to explore the inner workings of a sensitive, collective consciousness and to analyse the reasons for the breakdown of social structure in society. As the artist states, “I have used the perfectly balanced relationship between the central point and the circle as an allegory. It is my belief that all humans are born with an instinct for right and wrong. Reinforced by religion and society, this builds a protective circle of spirituality around them.”

By implication, the changing values in the modern world have led man away from the traditions that formulated his identity. Afrozs work demands attention. Its substance is realized in the delicate handling of surfaces, the depths and layers that allude to past, present and future eras. Carving, scratching and removing areas of paint reveal glimpses of colour, denser areas are almost like the plastering in frescoes. There are suggestions of motifs and patterns linking other ancient cultures.

Set among the texturized surfaces are forms draped in veils of shimmering colour. One bride like figure wears a cameo brooch bearing her own portrait, the dark background broken by scarlet flowerbeds. The artist expresses the essentially timeless quality of human experience with a sweeping freedom of form, conclusions translated into an expressionistic style.