Underground Art

DATED: 25 FEB 2000

Samina Mansuris current exhibition at Karachis Chawkandi art gallery is a radical departure from her previous work. It consists of 127 drawings, which were made during her three month residency in London last year at Gas works. The drawings are “installed” in the gallery space without frames and draw attention to the artists working process rather than the finished product. In sharing the working process, we feel part of her studio space, and get an insight into the ways in which artists structure and channelize their thought process and energy – thus highlighting the fact that art making and art exhibiting is very far apart in our present context. The work gathered momentum through an intense “dialogue” between Mansuris new-found environment in London. Looking at new art works, conversations, avant garde films, and, above all a nurturing group of artists at Gas works.

There is a sense of freedom in anonymity, the possibility of working in a new place, without the responsibility of belonging. This distance from yourself gives you a chance to reflect. You can make new beginnings and let your imagination flow. This can only develop when the artist works without the constraints of the market place and the demands of an audience.

In this body of work, there seems to be a rejuvenation of the artist and her work, as the viewer perceives a “shedding of skin”, in terms of content and technique.

There are many issues here, some ideas link to Mansuris previous work dealing with regeneration, continuity, and the process of ageing. The formal language has shifted from a symbolic use of plant and human parts to the androgynous, open forms that we see now.

Her colour palette has moved from an impasto surface, densely worked and scraped to a sparse, flat use of primaries – echoing her initial training as a graphics designer. Colour is first used in parts of some drawings, then as the base colour, and finally on a complete wall in the gallery space on which thirty drawings are mounted, signalling a move towards an installation, object-making approach.

This defies our preconceptions of what is a finished piece of work and whether there should be a hierarchy of materials in art practice. But as her earlier work was hermetic in nature, this is, perhaps deceptively, more open to the viewer. The artist is looking at herself with sympathy, even humour.

Bodies are mutated here – warrior figures emerge and submerge a giant fly swallows a little girl, a figure with giant magnet hands. Tender relationships are suggested between these mutated forms. There is a sense that these dysfunctional beings are trying to communicate, speech flows through different channels, only to arrive in a part of another drawing. Here the narrative is broken; the drawings can be read horizontally, vertically or diagonally through the gallery space. Objects and emotions are connected at different levels in a state of flux.

Underlying the apparent humour in the work, there is a resistance towards the framing of cultural constructions of femininity. In these drawings the artist is not only holding a mirror to herself, but to the viewer as well. Bodies are seen as dysfunctional forms. lt is not a female body that occupies the feminine position here, but a hybrid, an anthropomorphic being, that blurs the boundaries of animal/vegetal/human worlds and collapses the binaries of sexual difference.

The symbolic merging of male and female forms also implies a dispersal of power, in which the male has a less threatening potential. Perhaps this gives us a female perspective on male sexuality – a reversal of traditional roles. The condensation of images resists the construction of female subjectivity around notions of difference and otherness.

In todays visual culture, images of the body function carries complex and contradictory messages. Bodies and body parts dissolve, mutate, and double, as the body registers cultural, as well as personal fears and anxieties, Artists increasingly deploy the body as a site of resistance and a locus for expressions of death, disintegration and regeneration.

These images of the body as unfamiliar, visceral, unbounded and transitional draw upon the genre of the grotesque, caricature art and underground comics. They owe much to Surrealisms collapse of interior and exterior reality, its reimagining of the body as signifier of absence and deformity. In this way these drawings challenge the rational ordering of the body, and with it distinctions between mind and matter.