As a practice I avoid attending art exhibitions on opening day, because I never really get to see the pictures. All I see is people. Invariably, when the exhibits are highly promising, and there has been sufficient publicity, the gallery is crammed with visitors, other artists and, if there is a chief guest, a TV crew, provided the chief guest occupies a fairly high position in the local political pecking order. One mustn’t forget the photographers who prey on attractive visitors who, conscious of their presence, strike an attitude and appear the following day in the evening newspapers. Fortunately the two-person exhibition entitled ‘Melting into Us’ recently staged at the Unicorn Gallery in Karachi didn’t have a chief guest. But there were quite a few visitors; for the two artists whose work was being exhibited already have their share of admirers.
[quote]It is most refreshing to come across artists whose mission statements and introductions are well-written[/quote]
It is most refreshing to come across artists whose mission statements and introductions are well-written and are not composed of a lot of metaphysical gobbledygook which suggest direct translations from the vernacular. The declarations of the two NCA-trained artists whose pictures were exhibited at the Unicorn Gallery, Dua Abbas and Rajab Ali Syed were fortunately both well written and intelligible and there was no doubt in the reader’s mind as to the scheme they were trying to achieve. In some passages Rajab, however, came perilously close to the philosophy of Heraclitus, especially where he narrated his complicated relationship with Time, and agreed with the Greek philosopher that ‘you can’t step into the same river twice because the formative structure has changed.’ In others he sails on the same river as Plato when he strives to preserve an Idea that is permanent and immutable in the eyes of the Creator and not subject to change or amendment.
[quote]They are happy pictures and don’t portray the brooding meditativeness that defines so much of contemporary art[/quote]
Rajab’s work is highly appealing. He tells his story in huge oils on canvas which can be measured in feet rather than inches, for his themes could hardly be condensed into portmanteau sized pictures. When I interviewed him on the day of the exhibition he came across as a warm, sensitive, gregarious and totally disarming young man, the kind who wouldn’t hurt a fly. I thought I detected a strong sense of inwardness in his thought processes. He is quite passionate about his work which he sees essentially as didactic. His visuals are crisp, well defined and radiate a spirit of joie de vivre. They are happy pictures and don’t portray the brooding meditativeness that defines so much of contemporary art. In his work one detects an inordinate fondness for companionship, crowds, groups and parties. What the Germans refer to as Kameradschaft, or comradeship, the spirit that can galvanize a nation.
As Dua Abbas does not live in Karachi I was not able to have a conversation with her. And so her paintings will have to speak for her. She strikes me as being a romantic. In fact, the first thing that struck me about the five canvases that were exhibited in the exhibition is her passion for the female form. And the second was her high degree of professionalism in the execution of her work. Her portraits are exquisite. And borrowing a phrase from George Orwell, some were more exquisite than others. Her medium of expression is the portrait, executed in a pre-Rafaelite style. Her pictures are produced with pastel, at times on Somerset paper and at times on canvas. She derives much of her inspiration from pagan and medieval Christianity as “Females were still part of the iconographies of those times. They wielded mysterious powers; they had vestiges of divinity…and miracles were associated with them.”
The female face and form has fascinated artists and poets throughout the ages in the east and the west both in the realm of realism as well as abstraction. There is a poem by John Ash entitled ‘A Beauty’ which I am sure will interest her.
It was an intellectual face, –
white, with the mute look of a rose about to be doused
with a powerful insecticide,
and she never understood why, in her presence
perfectly sensible men would lose all control. What
was it she did? It cannot
have been anything she said. . . .
Dua Abbas has exhibited in the three major cities of Pakistan and also in Delhi and Dubai. Fortunately her work was not exhibited in Ahmedabad where the paintings of many Pakistani artists were trashed by the goons of a Hindu sect, and there was no apology from either the chief minister of Gujarat or the prime minister of India. Nor was there any talk of compensation. It doesn’t speak very highly of a country that claims to be secular