The latest show at Canvas Gallery in Karachi, “Aerial Cartographies”, is a testament to the fact that human perception is a dynamic play of direct observation and visual perspective shaped by pure imagination. The two participating artists, Natasha Shoro and Sara Khan, both look at very similar themes of mapping their surroundings from an elevated stance. Direct visual stimuli gathered from an altered, unusual viewpoint, are abstracted to provide a glimpse into the artists’ inner reflections on the outer world. It is then both understandable and surprising to see works that are so visually diverse.
Natasha Shoro’s work is an intriguing burst of vibrant yet sophisticated colour. The rich paint is applied thick, taking on a presence of its own; an entity independent from the two-dimensional objects it represents on canvas, giving the work its many different textures. The silky hues flirt in places, melting into each other while still maintaining their own stark beauty. In other places they represent firm identifiable shapes and patterns that add a layer of meaning to the work.
Shoro’s work is a personalised mapping of the artist’s environment, seen from an airplane window
The work reads as a personalised mapping of the artist’s environment, seen from thousands of feet above, from an airplane window. The bold colours seem to have been applied not with brushes but by hand or other objects, which gives these areas an urgent randomness and spontaneity. This randomness is accented with premeditation, however, interspersed with ponderously debated and carefully applied meandering lines and dotted pathways, much as you would see on an actual map.
While the work takes root in aerial mapping, there is an organic character to it, which is a consequence of Shoro’s inspiration from Mother Nature. In certain pieces, such as “Coral Waters” and “Reef”, thick paint seems to have been applied with a flat object to create a beautiful branched texture. The crimped lines resemble corals, conjuring serene images of the ocean. Shoro likes to draw parallels between the earthy textures of our skin and the elements, water, earth and foliage. “We all come from the earth,” she says.
This idea she extends into her patched works, where she has taken different canvases that she has worked on with paint, cut them up into patches and sown them together along with other materials such as leather. The earthiness of the skin comes in here as well as the idea of connecting different contrasting visuals. To her this is reminiscent of landscapes and how they are a collage of distinct elements of nature.
Shoro also incorporates a honeycomb pattern in some of her works, which fades in and out through the work. “I like to bring in elements of tradition in my work through Islamic patterns” says Shoro. It rather seems the patterns are another nod towards nature but in a more restricting way, helping bring order to the organic fluidity of the canvas.
Sara Khan’s work on the other hand is muted in comparison. The scale is smaller, the colour palette more subtle, and the visuals minimalistic. Her interests lie in the floating projections of the outside view on her walls; her windows. This body of work is a departure from her previous figurative works. As she explored the individual’s relationship to their environment, she now chooses to do the same here with herself, as she moves to Vancouver, a new and unknown city. “I think moving to a new place made me want to familiarise myself with it, with its landscape, with its setting, before getting into its stories, its nooks and crannies,” she says.
She focuses on certain areas of Vancouver as seen from her apartment on the 22nd floor, and then likes to take a walk in the same area and study the dichotomy of perspectives as objects come to eye level. Khan gathers visual data from two different perspectives and puts it through the sieve of her memory to extract the essence of this dual experience. The visuals we see are the simplified accumulations of these experiences, as opposed to literal representations. She says, “For the past few years, I have been training myself to draw and paint without references. I feel like there’s a lot more your mind has to offer once the reliance of photographs is taken away from it.”
She covers most of the image in a layer of white, only leaving out abstract negative spaces to allow us a glimpse at certain areas of the works, much like her own windows only allow her a piece of the view outside. “I love painting in layers. I always feel like layers end up giving way to images and substances that have been felt and imagined rather than just seen. The work becomes an amalgamation of what was observed and what your opinion of it is.” However, in the series titled “Walk” we see a reversal of this, and the gloomy landscape takes over the page with the shapes left blank, as she gets close and immerses herself into the space she once viewed from afar.
The visuals we see are the simplified accumulations of Sara Khan’s experiences, as opposed to literal representations
These “windows” in her work are shapes derived from objects found around the city. Khan feels that some of these shapes resemble some aspect of a house structure, which is her way of trying to place herself and find some semblance of a home in an unfamiliar space.
While artists have been fascinated by their immediate surroundings ever since there were artists, the topic never fails to be as fascinating for the viewer, perhaps because individual differences and our unique perspectives keep the work fresh and exciting. It is a beautiful experience, witnessing the world from the eyes of another, especially that of an artist; It opens up our own perspective and broadens our horizons, helping us see the same world in a way we never imagined it.