The Dark Side


Ahazy dream turns into a nightmare as dark, forbidding corridors and tall, ominous archways tower above a viewer made to feel childlike and insignificant. A familiar place, reminiscent of some long-forgotten time, takes on a new, sinister meaning. Definitely a step away from her previous series, Sumaya Durranis new work is stark and almost threatening in its austerity.

On show at the Gallery Chawkandi in the second week of August, Sumaya Durranis latest exhibition comprises a series of large, monochrome; mixed-media (offset prints overlaid and reworked in pastels) works on paper. The artist has used a few basic images (archways, lintels, mysterious figures peeping out from the shadows) and assembled these in a series of intriguing compositions, so that an image, repeated but reworked to different degrees, is sometimes obscured, sometimes more clearly revealed, lending to the works a sense of the mysterious as well as the vaguely familiar.

Sumayas dramatic palette of blacks and greys – a somewhat drastic departure from the bright fuschias and turquoises of old – is the first thing to strike the viewer. With an almost fierce determination, she has restricted herself not only to very little variation in colour, but also to highly disciplined structure in her work. This makes her compositions tight and controlled, exuding a tension that is almost tangible.

A sense of awe, if not quite terror, dominates the work that is frightening but magnetic, drawing the viewer into its shadowy, mysterious world. A woman, barely visible under a forbidding archway, stands quietly, almost resigned to her fate; a sinister, Christ-like figure holding a teacup stands in a window frame, surrounded by similar but darkened windows; another archway, towering over the viewer, leans precariously to one side, in the split-second between stability and imminent destruction -these are some of the haunting images that insinuate their way into ones mind, literally forcing one to remember some long-forgotten incident, and to examine ones own subconscious.

Sumayas present series, works in progress IV, was completed in Turkey, where she presently lives and works. Begun in January this year, it is an anguished response to the destruction of a city (“Any city,” she says, “but in this case it just happened to be Baghdad.”), and to the horrors of war. ln an alien environment, and one in which she was not exactly encouraged to speak her mind at the time, she seems to have poured it all out on paper. And her anger, her sense of isolation, her fear, too, is unmistakable in the work.

But Sumayas images, although they draw on the war for their inspiration, seem already to have transcended the contextuality that so much thematic work retains, which often makes it seem dated, too firmly rooted in a particular time and place to qualify for universality. Having admirably bypassed the pitfalls of all such cliched modes of expression, what Sumaya seems to have achieved is a sense of timelessness in her work, where multiple layers of interpretation can be applied to her pictures, drawing on the viewers own particular set of experiences.

There is no doubt that Sumayas work is moving, to say the least. And at a time when most of the work one gets to see veers towards gimickry and superficial prettiness or blatant commercialism, Sumayas sombre, thoughtful drawings are not only uncompromising in their simplicity but also refreshingly serious.