The Cultural Discourse


The recently produced, extremely powerful body of work by Munnawar Ali Syed that is exhibited at the Chawkandi Art, Karachi, is the output of an artist whose singular range of imagery and metaphor reveals his views of the troubled times he lives in. The work addresses the issues of cultural discourse by the mass media and concludes it is instead attenuated platitudes of little value.

Working with optical illusion and creating portraits that follow you eerily around the gallery. Syed illustrates the confusion and oxymoron raised by juxtaposing glamorous news presenters over streamers of horrific breaking news bulletins.

In his work one senses the yearning for transcendence that evokes the agony of the confused masses. Admitting to an addiction to television, he describes the experience of changing channels and hearing different opinions from foreign and local sources as creating a toothpick society.

He compares the ineffectual efforts to remove growing problems ensuing from countless causes, to the struggle involved in removing shreds of meat stuck too deep in teeth. As Syed explains. “That unconscious thought transforms into faces either with an ordinary toothpick or dual relief in my recent work.”

A series of heads formed from toothpicks inserted into a clay/plaster base and exhibited under perspex covers, carry dual images viewed from rear and front angles. Tiny drones are seen hovering to apparent indifference, as if the irritants are flies or mosquitoes to be shooed away. Examining the series one finds a crown of thorns.

Syed holds a BFA degree in sculpture from the NCA (1999), and is currently teaching the discipline at the Karachi University, and the lndus Valley School of Art and Architecture. He is a participant of the Rising tide exhibition at Mohatta Palace, Karachi, and in recent years we have witnessed a number of riveting solo exhibitions of his work freely incorporating numerous disciplines and media that are witness to the versatility of the man.

Syed has attended resident/workshops in Pakistan, the UK and in Australia, and is equally at home with a diverse range of tools and materials. His output encompasses clay, plaster, paint, graphite, ink and wood to create third dimensional forms, wall-based work, graffiti, drawings, calligraphy and ceramic forms.

ln his current display One discovers three seemingly different personas of the Quaid-i-Azam, worked in the style of optical illusion. These, he implies, echo programmes of TV panellists who describe the great man according to their own beliefs. Syed is at his best in the dramatic wood carved sculpture with ingenious symbolism. Figures emerging from a vertical block are placed on a representation of a computer/TV set. Above the heads are placed piles of books, referring to the misinterpretation of facts that are offered as educational material to the contemporary students.

ln other carvings, one finds assorted feet, and a torso with hollow centre barbed with fine sticks. Syeds work is unique, reflecting intellectual insight with the fearless aplomb of a dedicated artist whose work must be seen and examined at length.