“In these trying times, let’s take our minds off the stressful circumstances we find ourselves in, and enjoy a beautiful art collection.” These are the words of M. Ali Tabassum, curator of Karachi’s Artkaam Gallery and its new sister gallery, ArtOne62, where he has now compiled an online display for artists and art lovers during the coronavirus pandemic, which presently fills the newspapers daily. But in line with Ali’s invitation, let’s understand that for some time it was the dream of his friend Shahid Malik – artist, businessman, classic designer, and owner of GalleryOne62 Australia – to establish such a sister gallery here for exchange of exhibitions, thesis shows and so on. In fact he’s rather keen to have a Pakistani artist’s truck art exhibition in his Australian gallery. Besides some of Shahid’s own work, in the current ‘Pick of the Week’ exhibition we can admire works in various media by such luminaries as A.Q. Arif, Abid Khan, Hajra Mansoor, Mehtab Ali, Rustam Khan, Shafique Farooqi and Shahnaz Naqvi.
Four of Shahid’s works grace the exhibition in an interesting pen- and fluid-on-paper combination. Perhaps we could describe these works as geological abstracts, and it’s interesting to note how he has outlined the forms and colours with unobtrusive white lines. Two of his pieces include less design, as much of their space is devoted to what appears to be the planet Earth. One is hard-put to find the meaning of these 2 pieces. However, his best piece is a subtle combination of textures and shapes, mostly oblong and triangle, along with a beautifully textured patch of blue that really catches one’s eye. And much of this exhibit is backed by solid lines of crosses in blue-grey, unifying the whole composition.
Born in Mirpur Khas, Sindh, in 1954, Rustam Khan is largely a self-taught artist who achieved recognition through his extraordinary work. He is mainly interested in portraits and realistic work, though he’s done impressive work also in murals, landscapes, mosaics sculpture and even 3D models. His fame for portraits led to his being commissioned to produce a mask for the Pakistani Oscar award winning documentary, Saving Face, directed and produced by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy. In ‘Pick of the Week,’ his untitled oil on canvas depiction of 3 village women at night, watched by a little boy as they spin wool, wind the finished product and prepare it for spinning, somehow reminds one of the Dutch Golden Age genre paintings, with their charming scenes of everyday life. His sense of colour is delightful, especially in the way that the shades of the women’s clothing and the boy’s golden skin blend with the discreetly mixed colours of the walls. And through an open door one can see the ceiling fan and the neat shelves of crockery in the darkened room nearby. This is a picture that is hard to stop admiring.
Quite fascinating are Shahnaz Naqvi’s needlework pieces – black work on white cloth, especially her 2 graceful young men wearing laurel wreaths about their heads, above which they carry ships. The question is, “Are they Greek or Roman?” Their laurel leaf crowns and the folds of their garments seem to be Roman, yet their profiles and the ships they bear suggest Greece and its history, the ships reminding one of Queen Helen of Troy. The two young men depicted by Naqvi are wearing togas, the garment for all men in Ancient Roman culture, though the men honoured with the title of Citizen of Rome wore a toga made of white wool or cotton. The artist is to be admired for the patience, skill and imagination with which she has put together this collection.
Tanzara Gallery, Islamabad, was the venue for Shafique Farooqi’s remarkable exhibition titled ‘The Whirling Dervish,’ based on the poetry of the great Rumi. One of the comments heard concerned the inherent spirituality of his work, “which is also decorative and pleasing to the eye, making the viewer stop and contemplate.” His intention in this in this show, it seems, was to show the dancers out in space, with the brilliant colours of the universe much in evidence. Their grace is very impressive, like the grace of spirit that leads them in their trance-like dance since they are on a spiritual quest for union with the Divine. But to tell the truth, some of his works here feature 3 or 4 spiritual seekers who could be travelling down the tunnel leading to the other world. This is a phenomenon mentioned by many who have had near-death experiences, though it by no means detracts from Shafique’s intention. Some contemporary presentations of whirling dervishes may at best be considered clumsy, but Farooqi’s work is in a class of its own.
“If music be the food of love, play on!” These unforgettable words of Henry VIII in Shakespeare’s eponymous historical play come to mind when seeing Hajra Mansoor’s acrylic on canvas study of a beautiful young musician. She plays an exquisitely fashioned antique string instrument whose music one would naturally love to hear. As the music flows, so do the folds of her dupatta, of the curtain behind her, and of the cloth covering her dainty feet. As usual, Hajra has exaggerated certain charms of la femme, such as the extra-large eyes in an innocent face, a long neck and long, graceful hands. It is a pity, however, that her arms are, like her feet, rather skinny. Meanwhile, the blue space above her completes the picture without obtruding in this picture full of light.
Now we must thank Zaheen Ahmed for her training and guidance that transformed A.Q. Arif (Abdul Quddus Arif) into a highly skilled painter. He graduated, in fact, from the renowned Karachi School of Art, and after graduation he began exhibiting immediately in Karachi and Lahore, where he was captivated by the beauty of the rural landscapes surrounding these places and the sense of space. He feels that beauty lies in the hands and heart of man, and with this in view he has taught drawing and painting at several Karachi art schools, including Karachi School of Art and IVS. His point of interest in his own work has for some time been architecture, usually from the Mughal period and also newer structures inspired by that period. Seeing his work, partly imaginary, partly realistic, with its admirable use of form and colour, viewers stand transfixed. His work is known in Asia, south Asia and Europe. Besides his 18 solo shows, he has participated in over 70 group shows both in Pakistan and abroad.
His arresting cityscape in ‘Pick of the Week’ owes most of its impact to the large, Mughal-inspired building with its huge dome, and its adjoining corridor of large, arched windows taking one’s eye right to the back of the picture. The dome is an essential part of many of his pictures, and is a powerful symbol of the vault of heaven. The surrounding water is also seen in many of his works, adding mystery to the composition, while in this study nocturnal insects flutter above it. But it is simply amazing how almost every building in the background features a dome against the misty sky where the sun gives its last light. And who could not admire the way that the solid brown of the subject gradually gives way to mauve and pink near the fading sun? As to the arches in the main building, this architectural form is looked upon as essentially masculine, and symbolises many things, such as strength and support, lightness and openness within density, and a threshold into liminal space.
Unfortunately, time and space constraints do not allow detailed mention of all works displayed. But it is a great delight to view the varied works shown to us by Ali in these troubled times.