Now and then one meets runaways in the art world. For example, in Karachi there’s the runaway businessman Wahab Jaffer, who turned to art after the family business was nationalized. There’s runaway engineer Khusro Subzwari, who after 25 years at his original profession, has gained international admiration as a self-taught painter, and – just imagine! – there’s Abid Merchant, who after 21 years in banking started the Sanat Gallery in 2014, principally with a view to promoting young artists, and is about to make his debut as a film producer in New York!
Having heard from a number of artists – emerging, mid-career and established – that they were keen to have a gallery that would promote them actively, rather than just selling their work, Abid set to work to help them realise their dreams. Sanat, therefore, is a gallery with a mission, particularly to promote young artists. This is done with the cooperation of a united board of managers, through residency programmes, solo and group exhibitions, publication of catalogues featuring individual artists, inviting art writers, collectors and patrons of the arts to exhibitions, exhibiting works at international art fairs, social media promotions and detailed information on exhibitions on Sanat’s website.
Later this year Sanat will participate in the Contemporary Istanbul Art Fair, an international art show in Turkey, exhibiting a solo by Muhammad Zeeshan. And in early August, Abid is off to Locarno, Switzerland, where his film Wakhri, based on the life of Qandeel Baloch, will be shown as representing South Asia in the Locarno Film Festival, now in its 72nd year. The organisers invited him earlier on to meet potential financiers for Wakhri from the international market.
The 4 participating artists were instructed to base their works for the ‘June’ exhibition on the dot and the line, and some very interesting pictures resulted. Dots create a centre of focus, emphasising and drawing attention to the subject, and they are the building blocks for everything else – line, shape, pattern, texture and so on. Furthermore, dot paintings are universally recognised as integral to Australian Aboriginal art, with the deeper purpose of disguising the sacred meanings behind the stories shown in the paintings.
Ahmer Farooq uses mixed media to portray forbidden love
As to lines, their variation is important, conveying different purposes, as well as communicating feelings and states of mind through their character and direction, whether they be horizontal, vertical, diagonal, swirling, or whatever.
Back to the dot: it represents the seed, the spark and the focused thought, which gives birth to creation in both physical and mental realms. On a much deeper level, it is symbolic of the one eternal source of all creation. It symbolises Deity, Divinity and the Divine Mind. Then in nature, for example, the mightiest oak grows from the small, round acorn, or a well laden stalk of corn rises from a small, round seed. Thus in this way, the un-manifested concept already exists within the dot.
Now let’s look at some of the work that resulted from the use of the two elements suggested to those participating in ‘June’, beginning with Sameer Sandeelo, a graduate of Sindh University, Jamshoro, who has been fascinated by the dot since childhood. In fact, his early work employed pointillism, while his images were typical village scenes, landscapes and portraits. He marvels at the details one can capture through the repetition of a single dot. At the suggestion that he experiment with abstracts, he has moved in this direction, while investigating colours, tones and minute details. What strikes him most, he says, is not the form of an object, but the details comprising its arrangement.
Though he has included abstracts in his exhibits, his best piece is the tranquil ‘Landscape.’ Here one is impressed by the authentic, harmonious colour, and the natural forms that make up the picture – the trees, flowers, water, clouds and mountains all composed of dots and true to form. The medium, he says, is the felt-tipped pen. Here and there the outline of the mountains appears almost as a line, though one can see the dots that discreetly compose it. One admires the patience required for such a composition, present also in his abstracts. It will be interesting to see his future landscapes, in which he proposes to include collage work.
Ahmer Farooq is a self-taught artist, painting since childhood, and doing so professionally for 5-6 years. In the work exhibited at Sanat – work greatly appreciated by viewers – he has subtly portrayed forbidden love, including premarital, extramarital and homosexual. He employs mixed media: oils, inks acrylics, silver and gold foil, and frequently his images employ bright colours, reflecting the brightness that love lends to their lives, while the dark colours represent the hopelessness of their marginalised position in a society that recognises only marital heterosexual love. Meanwhile the silver, gold and glitter and the occasional truck art motifs speak of the element of exhilaration which these lovers nevertheless feel, “within their cloistered liaisons, extant across all classes of society.”
In this work Ahmer is motivated not only by sympathy, but by the desire to encourage people to “think out of the box,” and to acknowledge that we need to connect with others on a social level and beyond social norms. He interviewed 20 people who are or have been in this situation, thus gaining a better understanding and a wider perspective. These thoughts bring to mind the laws passed in recent years for the protection of transgender people.
Most viewers have understood the picture in which the lovers are imprisoned behind sturdy black bars. However, throughout his work one sees and wonders about the ever-present black lines, which in fact are stylised letters of the Urdu alphabet, telling the personal stories of these marginalised folk. But interestingly, Ahmer’s images look as if they are composed of stones, which bring to mind the ancient custom – outlawed now in many countries – of stoning to death people in such relationships. How pertinent were the words of Jesus Christ, who on seeing a woman about to be stoned said, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone!”
Salman Khan was trained as a miniature artist at NCA Lahore, and finds “the technique and practice of miniature work very meditative and calming.” Yet he feels that beside this it can release unprecedented aggression. He continues by saying, “On close observation I have come to the realisation that all forms of insanity have a strangely unique relationship with reason…” Asked about his interest in insanity, he answers, “A strong influence on my work comes from the socio-political situation in the tribal areas, to which I belong. And the idea of producing such work is to illustrate how I personally deal with all the emotional stresses which other people, too, are experiencing. There is a lot to say, as I personally experienced all those situations of war, terror, migration and fear…” But he feels that his practice becomes a catharsis, giving release from the chaos, pain and burden of everyday life .
Salman has used gouache on wasli to great advantage in this exhibition, in grey and blue-grey, displaying a variety of lines. In one picture confusion reigns, with a full moon floating in a sky full of conflicting lines, while the red dots here and there seem to indicate a kind of warfare. Will we see this in outer space in the distant future, as more and more nations join in the race for space? His next piece strongly suggests aggression, in the suddenness of the strong downward movement from horizon to base. The excellent brushwork in the employment of lines and folds, and the mixed lines at the lower left, add to the sense of aggression and confusion. But his third piece is somewhat calligraphic, starting with a delicate touch, its many lines gathering intensity as they progress downwards. A few splashes here and there add enhancement, while the final flourish towards the right completes the balance. This is a very pleasing composition.
“Travel, change, interest, excitement! The whole world before you and a horizon that’s always changing!” says Toad of Toad Hall in Kenneth Grahame’s immortal children’s story, The Wind in the Willows. Noshad Ali’s thoughts on the road inspire such memories of this story, heard over the radio in the days before mankind’s journey of discovery led to the invention of television. Son of a long-distance driver who shared his memories of the road with him, he tells us, “The road is significant and as old as man himself. It shortens time and connects us with diverse cultures and philosophical landscapes. I have used the line as a metaphor for the road, redolent of all the road trips I have taken in life thus far. The idea of the line also resonates with our life as a journey. A journey we have embarked upon tiered with conscious and subconscious strata of existence.” Here his thoughts echo somehow the Buddhist idea of following the path –which, if followed sincerely, can lead us out of the confines and suffering of Samsara, the endless repetition of birth, death and rebirth, to Nirvana. Regarding his work, Noshad Ali continues, “My work is a combination of intentional and unintentional attempts at constructing a response arising from my state of mind and the emotions I experience.”
Noshad Ali’s eye-catching black-and-white piece featuring an all-over pattern of squares reminds one of the network of roads crisscrossing a country – a network in which one must keep one’s wits about them to avoid getting lost. (This is where the good old map, viewed with concentration, is superior to the satellite navigation system in modern cars, which can still get you lost, something that will definitely affect your state of mind and emotions.) The piece also suggests the various paths we take in life, due either to inner or to outer compulsion, with all the situations one encounters on them, and the means one must take to deal with them. Then looking closely at the picture, one can see 2 types of road, both losing emphasis and protruding towards the centre, warning us against loss of purpose and aimless deviation from the chosen path. The pattern of squares suggests also the crossroads, with its ancient identity as a place where sorcery was practised, or where those guilty of certain crimes, therefore not fit to be buried in hallowed ground, were interred.
For Noshad Ali, certainly, the road is free, and these words by English metaphysical poet George Herbert (16th-17th century) reflect not only this, but the freedom with which these four young artists have interpreted the use of the dot and the line.