Yearning For Dialogue


Print-maker and painter Mehr Afroze is not an island. She is an artist eager to communicate her ideas. An exhibition of her work opens at the Rohtas Gallery in Islamabad.

Mehr Afroze, print-maker and painter has been working professionally in Karachi since 1971, when she migrated from Lucknow, India, together with her family. It took her a while to find her bearings in the unfamiliar highly commercial metropolis, and it was not until 1973 that her prints first made an appearance in the All Pakistan National Exhibition.

The sophistication and maturity of her work took the pundits of the Pakistan art world by surprise who had never heard of Mehr Afroze or her work, but that is typical of Afroze. This Soft-spoken, modest self-effacing printmaker is not part of the socia1 art world of Pakistan, and has to be hunted down to be verbal about her work. There is no file of press statements or art critics eulogies to read up, which is refreshing as one is faced quite simply with the work and the person. For someone with a reputation of being reticent and non-communicative, Afroze is surprisingly sure and lucid about the issues facing her personally and other artists. She talks candidly about commitment to ones work and the choices to be made between doing a good P.R. job for one-self, and the concentration on the real business of expression.

A major issue facing Afroze has been the struggle to find acceptance for her chosen media, i.e. printmaking. A legitimate form of visual expression in other countries, all forms of printmaking have been mostly ignored in Pakistan except by a few painters like Zahoorul Akhlaq, Naz lkramullah and Ahmed Khan. Quite apart from the lack of printmaking facilities like an adequate press, Afroze has had to contend with an atmosphere which did not really consider printmaking a significant medium of expression. It is to her credit that her persistence is and the maturity of her work have helped to establish the validity of the form in general.

Afrozes work since her first show in 74 has progressed and matured along a course that she described as “inspirations from mans statements from the beginning of his existence.” She speaks of the mystery of existence, the clues that man leaves behind in every environment, in every age. As one links this with the visual appearance of her works, one finds forms and symbols that speak of earlier civilizations interwoven with texture and surfaces sensitively created to contain them. There is a marriage of the image and its ground, which is finely balanced, so that neither is the spokesman. Rather, the reader is confronted by a continuous image, in which forms both emerge from, and submerge themselves into the ground, achieving in formal terms, the mystery of existence that Afroze speaks of. It is then that one understands Afrozes commitment to the medium of printmaking. The process carries with it the assembly of impressions, the making of marks, the element of mystery and suspense, as the print parts from the plate to create the subtle rather than the obvious. It is these hints and clues that emerge from Afrozes surfaces and continue into her drawing and painting.

Colour in Afrozes work is discreet and indeed almost monochromatic, as though time had aged and weathered the sharpness of colour. In Afrozes drawings and painting one finds a complexity of texture, the appearance and disappearance of grafitti marks, symbols and one can read into them the walls of Afrozes environment. One can link these “walls” with Afroze`s person if one wants to. She is obviously an island, but one with deeply felt ties and attachments, eager for real dialogue. Her earlier academic excellence at the Lucknow School of Art is brushed aside, except when talking of the atmosphere of real learning and a commitment to development in ones work. Afroze teaches at the Central School of Art in Karachi and one discerns a yearning for an enriching dialogue with those younger and older, which one may or may not find in Karachis environment. But in all of her verbal and visual expression there is a passionate belief in the validity of deeply felt aesthetic experience. Afroze is also emphatic about her determination to put these experiences into the two dimensional language of form, texture and colour. These are marks and clues which she makes, all part of the evidence of mans existence on earth.