Mountains have a special magical quality that brings out certain qualities in us. They are thought to contain divine inspiration, which accounts for their importance as pilgrimage sites, or sites for temples or meditation. The mountain is looked upon as a universal symbol of nearness to God, as it surpasses ordinary humanity and concerns and extends towards the heavens.
Salman Hunzai’s recent exhibition at Mainframe Gallery, Karachi, pays tribute to all this. He sees these snow-capped mountains as prisms, and as a source of inspiration for both physical and spiritual grooming. Since he belongs to such an environment, being born in Aliabad, Hunza, his work is a share of his personal understanding of art – from Mother Nature to the art world. It also evidence of his success in the miniatures course at NCA Lahore.
“The mountains in my work,” he says, “represent aspiration and devotion towards overcoming obstacles and making progress. And they symbolize the spirit rising towards the One. Being from the Hunza Valley, they also represent me, my dwelling, my life and the never-ending struggle of self-exploration. The mystique of mountains is enhanced by the play of light in my art works.”
We must not miss Salman’s gentle image of a finely chiseled peak and its surroundings, clearly the work of a miniaturist
One must agree with him regarding the spiritual energy emanating from mountains, rivers, forests and the like. For example, if one meditates sitting with their back to nearby mountains or a river, certainly one will experience this energy. But if one faces them, the energy received and the accuracy of one’s perceptions will certainly be magnified. If, for example, while in conversation near the magnificent Passu Cones of the Cathedral Ridge in Hunza one inadvertently gestures towards this seven-peaked marvel, one may be surprised to feel a current of energy entering one’s hand.
Salman has, of course, worked a lot with miniatures. At one point he began to develop his own style, creating abstracted miniatures that showed the stylized influence of tribal and historical art and showing new ways to express the human form, influenced by Greek sculpture and the emergence of existentialism. He also developed his own technique of making miniatures on stones, with semitransparent layers of watercolours, permanent ink and other materials – his images here being intricately detailed, amazingly precise.
Now we are in for a nice surprise. Looking at picture no. 2, we find a bare brown mountain under a brilliant blue sky, with a single, incredible cloud above it and shadowy forms in the foreground. One marvels at his luck in finding such a view, and asks him whether it is as nature made it or whether it is the product of a camera shop. Also, one wishes to ask him what camera and lenses he prefers. And to our surprise he tells us that he has not actually photographed his works, but that using his imagination he stylizes pictures he finds on the internet (hence the absence of titles.). Since he has lived amongst these peaks where the Karakorams, the Hindu Kush and the Himalayas converge, this intimate knowledge of them is the source of his imagination.
As to No. 4, the viewer may comment that this is like a view of heaven, with the white ice in the foreground and the sky-blue water and much else to see in the background. Heaven in the foreground and earth in the background. When asked about the location, Salman explains that this whole piece is purely imaginary, and that indeed he had set out to create something like Paradise – or very near to it.
A touch of realism is found in Golden Peak (No. 12), which stands in front of the famous Rakaposhi in Hunza, and is quite famous in that area because it is very easy to see from any angle. Nature has endowed it with many distinctive features, which Salman has painstakingly reproduced. The sculpted cloud formations are clearly the work of a miniaturist, while the natural framing by the dark coloured rock formations adds much to the tout ensemble, partly by giving the impression that Golden Peak is a floating part of creation.
The variety of his works is part of their fascination. For example, the number and variety of his twin peaks – some presented as slim panels, others in oval frames – is quite captivating. Also outstanding is his needle-like peak (No. 7 ), partly covered with snow. But rest assured, such peaks do appear in Hunza, along with the fascinating, craggy mountains, sculpted by the wind in various parts, as do the sharply pointed mountains such as children love to draw. One needle-like peak, ‘Lady Finger,’ is visible from the village of Gulmit Gojal, which is the second capital of Hunza. Added to all this, we must not miss Salman’s gentle image of a finely chiseled peak and its surroundings, clearly the work of a miniaturist, and rising out of clouds resembling the gentle waves of the sea, while a contrasting cloudy background forms the sky.
“Creativity knows no bounds,” says Shahzad of Mainframe Gallery. “It is there amongst us, constantly in need of appreciation and encouragement.” Having spent 20 years in framing, he and his dedicated colleagues are keen to find the perfect frame to highlight the beauty of these artworks. Their endeavour is to provide a platform for both the upcoming and the established artists to present their work to the global art arena. So with the creativity of artists like Salman Hunzai and the dedication of galleries like Mainframe, we may expect to see outstanding exhibitions.