Today’s 24-hour news cycle and the ubiquity of social media may have been conceived as tools to update and connect. But instead, they often add extra drama and feelings of isolation to our lives.
Karachi’s Chawkandi Art Gallery held a show that asked artists to block the noise and look inwards. Curated by artist Sheherbano Husain, “Inside-Out” features 11 artists who interweave their experiences with today’s society to present an astute view of the world we live in. Husain’s art is playful and full of independent thinking. And she brings all that energy as a curator.
A sense of time weaves through the show – whether it is Illona Yusuf’s fleeting flower, or Qadir Jhatial’s man who has moved from being a leisurely newspaper reader to a voracious web surfer.
A constant in artist Anwar Saeed’s work over the years is the presence of the body. He revels in the physicality of it, and uses it as a starting point for discussion and tension. In “What do you Want from A Complicated Heart”, we are privy to his figure’s inner turmoil. Red branches splay behind the man like vessels. A woman floats, an apparition above. In “Of Women and Some Goddesses”, pieces of Picasso’s “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” (The Young Ladies of Avignon) flank the main figure in a collage – he surveys the scene like a partygoer, drink in hand. Before him a fish is sprouting languid lady legs. This one too has a blue female apparition watching over the male. The paintings are beautiful and agitated, and raise questions of identity, sin and desire.
Like Saeed, Aasim Akhtar’s photographic prints feature the male form—giant grainy figures with faces veiled by smoke or clothes. He explores the idea of skin, it being both protective film encasing our entrails, as well as an internal layer, exposed when undressed. Curator Husain displays these on a giant red wall and they look fantastic.
Anas Ghauri’s giant, sensitively rendered graphite and charcoal drawings, a male figure with an absent body contorting like a gymnast—create jagged shapes formed by trousers and shirts.
Afshar Malik’s paintings swirl like a dervish with calligraphic strokes. It’s a mass of colour and language. Qadir Jhatial’s “In Future of the Past” and the diptych “Skeptical” is easily accessible with its flat planes of colour – a gentleman relaxing on the sofa, gaze downward on his newspaper against a backdrop of pulsating yellow. In “Skeptical” the figure is slouching at his laptop. The paintings are like a list of domestic comfort, lamp, sofa, paper, tea cup: banal objects but Jhatial’s rendering is joyous.
Zoya Alina Currimbhoy’s puzzling works are inspired by flowing water. Serpentine liquid shapes form pictures. In “The Bearer”, a vessel is unable to contain the liquid that forms a presence.
No common language is necessary in curator Husain’s work. In an array of surfaces and materials she melds myths, stories and icons from various continents and texts. In “Babel, (The Well of Sadness)” there’s a lot to unpack; she alludes to the Quranic story of the angels Harut and Marut; and the origin myth of the Tower of Babel from Genesis – a story that has transcended religions and cultures, providing an explanation for why we speak different languages. The notion appeals to Husain as she talks about developing a universal tongue. In an increasingly polarized world, she successfully ensures there’s no language barrier.
Ali Manganhar’s “Fermenting Cezanne’s apples” has layers of paint and an experiment in surfaces— speckled, dribbled and patterned. With a yellow and green palette he toys with Western art subjects and practices and local film poster aesthetic: a giant eye peeks out from the sky.
At a corner of the show, Illona Yusuf, Saba Iqbal and Amna Hashmi’s pieces all explore the idea of transience. Iqbal spells out this “delayed gratification” of limited television entertainment—when you knew the whole city spent the evening watching the same drama or censored American show. She recalls noting down timings for one’s preferred cartoon or show, in her delightfully rugged “television” and “radio”, complete with bent antennae; pieces with titles from 1980s hits by Queen and Dire Straits.
Amna Hashmi’s “The Deliciousness of Unpacking” and “The Feast in Familiar Spaces”—two gems in the show, unpack (literally) the sacrosanctness of the ritual. To add to the effect, you have to wear gloves to remove the delicate paintings from their chocolate box. The tiny pieces are wrapped in layers of materials and pay homage to Mughal miniatures and anime characters with bubble eyes. Hashmi makes the viewer work to finally behold the quirky pieces, and it is worth the wait.
There’s a ghostly quality to Illona Yusuf’s paintings. “Chambers of the Rose” and “artist’s book” invite us to the realm of soil, root and bulb, the mystery and magic of a stem sprouting. In a book that opens like an accordion, the flower “Epiphyllum oxypetalum” called the night lotus, or queen of the night, is juxtaposed with poetry. “Petals are frayed with flame and burn like coal”—there are smoky, gentle tissues and muscle strength. It is a botanist-like study and fascination overflows.
In an age of instant gratification, everything finds us like lightening, be it bad news or a kurta ordered online. Unsurprisingly, studies show millennials dissatisfied at 26—a feeling that used to find you after 40.
In the show Yusuf, Hashim and Iqbal’s work plays off each other, exploring this forgotten feeling of waiting—the patience, the gratitude and the reward. The petals that open when no one is looking, the joy in the experience of unwrapping, not the object itself. Or put another way, the quiet flower versus the social media star.