The Karachi Art Beat

DATED: JAN 18 1990

For Meher Afroze, the face is the starting point towards creating a whole atmosphere of primitivism in her paintings. Her exhibition of Paintings, which opened at the, Gallery Chawkandi from January 9, demonstrates her desire to make paintings that are more like historical documents, creating a vision of our times from some point in the future.

Meher Afroze has had a long and distinguished career as an artist. She first participated in an exhibition in India in 1970, and since then has taken part in more than twenty group and solo shows. She participated in the Western Pacific print biennale in Melbourne in 1976 and 1978, as well as the Triennale in Delhi in 1986. Meher, who is teaching at the Central Institute of Fine Arts and Crafts, had her last solo show at the Chakwandi in 1987, and was selected for the National Exhibition of Women Painters in islamabad last year.

ln this exhibition, Meher has used acrylics on hand-made paper to give various renditions of the female face. The paintings are made in different colour tones; they have been laboriously worked at to achieve the correct texture and surface. Meher works on the paintings in layers; successive layers of acrylic paint are applied to the bare skeleton of form, and this, when rubbed off, leaves an interesting surface where glimpses of older layers are discernable. Her object is to achieve the right surface, the right texture and the right colour. The correctness of the whole painting is determined by its visual appeal to the senses as something not created now but many eons ago.

This washing away of successive layers gives the paintings the feeling of having been weathered and worn down over time. The feeling of something primitive is very much there. lt is as if the faces have been painted on ancient sandstone, and have only parts of their features remaining after so long a time. This is Mehers basic motivation: to create a sense of history, even for newly created forms.

There is a certain inherent appeal to antiquated objects, and especially objects of art. This is the statement of the exhibition there is an appeal to an old object besides its historical value. Old objects look good, that sense of having been worn and in ruins has an appeal all its own that newness doesnt.

The faces are not accurately rendered. They are finely out lied ovals always, with the eyes and the lips additional ovals within this composition. While the face is sometimes clearly outlined, with large eyes staring at the observer, in other paintings it is hardly discernable, with just a line that might be the nose. The paintings elicit a certain awe and reverence that can only be achieved with a very patient working with colours and surfaces.

Meher Afroze tries this same composition with different colours. Sometimes that composition is made with Egyptian hues: green, rust, blue. Sometimes she tries the face with the turquoise of Hala, as in the tiles. She has used the motifs and the local colours found in the woven and worked fabrics, but always as just a subtle indication. Meher has also used pure colours in her paintings, the pure blue and the pure green which is so raw as to have a discomfiting glare. All of these paintings become examples of what can be done with just one form, with one basic outline, and then working on it paintings and laboriously to achieve this tantalising surface, which is both hauntingly ancient and strikingly modern at the same time.

This exhibition will be open at the Gallery Chakwandi until January 18, 1990.