In ‘Barcode,’ a luminous cloud hangs suspended from lines of candy colour in a perfect blue sky. Meeting the sky, pushing firmly against it, is the solid beige weight of a wall. Similarly, in ‘Home II,’ a pixelated cloud in a perfect sky hovers above the sharp corners of the side of a pink-toned house. In ‘Dreaming,’ a light pole backed by cloud, topped by an early evening moon in a sky patterned with high tension wires, is topped by a tiny pigeon – which the viewer notices only when s/he comes close to the photograph. And in ‘As Far as the Eye Can See,’ the viewer sees the dark weight of buildings at the bottom of the paper, set against the spectacular shades of a sunset sky, before s/he registers the opaque shape of a house ‘painted’ onto it.
Amina El Edroos’s first solo exhibition at Islamabad’s newest gallery, 8 B 2, examines suburban life with an eye that is often questioning, sometimes affectionate and whimsical. She has an eye for scale, pattern and colour, which she utilizes to great effect in photographic compositions printed on lustre paper.
One has the feeling that even in intimate compositions such as ‘Chai in the Evening,’ where the pink sky grades into the earthy tones of a tree silhouetted alongside buildings and petal like forms, the artist constantly questions the dream world advertised by the plethora of local property development companies, in television advertisements and billboard hoardings. Her candy-coloured skies, which graduate into shades of mauve and pink, appear slightly surreal. In almost every work, the natural view – sunset, moonscape, plants – is broken by a grid of crosswires and pylons or obstructed by walls or houses (as in As Far as The Eye Can See). The viewer has the impression that although there is great comfort in the neighbourhood, the lived reality is far from the dream. There’s the feeling that although there is beauty beyond the walls, beyond the horizon, the immediate surroundings are restricting and encourage or demand uniformity of vision. This feeling of control breaks only in pieces like ‘Off the Grid’, where a bougainvillea topped boundary wall is overlaid with a transparent web of wild scribblings; by contrast, in ‘Flocking’ the pixelated birds’ wings appear fixed in an a mechanized up-down motion, as if they have succumbed to conformity.
El Edroos’s work follows a trajectory begun during her graduate studies at Beaconhouse University, where her thesis project was an installation piece, a thirty-one by nine-foot projection of an aerial view of a gated community, in which each house is identical in size and area. On to this image the artist superimposed videos of interiors in which each occupant performed the same action. The artist says of its construction, “I would begin by taking a space and breaking it up into different quadrants to show a repetitive action within it. It went from a grid of four to a grid of thousands.”
The sixteen works displayed in the exhibition are dramatically set off by the gallery’s open, white walled space and wide windows, which look out on to a view of fields
Photography isn’t always recognised as an art medium, even though since its inception in the nineteenth century photographers have constantly pushed the boundaries between documentation and art. In Pakistan, Tapu Javeri began painting over his photographs in the nineties, while other photographers, such as Arif Mahmood and Farah Mahboob and since then a widening group of younger practitioners, have experimented with different techniques of manipulation and types of paper. Only in the last few years has the genre begun to move from the periphery into the mainstream.
El Edroos says, “There is always a conversation between different mediums of art. For instance, when the camera was invented in the nineteenth century, many modern painters began painting in a more abstract expressionist way. That’s because they no longer needed to represent things exactly as they saw them.” Of her own choice to make digital art, she says, “I do borrow my artistic sensibilities from other more traditional mediums. For example, one can argue that pixellation is neo miniaturism in the sense of the idea of a large image made up of tiny pixels…from a distance it appears as one image but when you get close to it parts of it begin to pixellate.”
She feels that digital art works on the same principles as traditional art, in that it involves subtle layering and manipulation of form and colour, a fact which is often not recognised or understood.
The sixteen works displayed in the exhibition are dramatically set off by the gallery’s open, white walled space and wide windows, which look out on to a view of fields. El Edroos’s decision to exhibit here effectively juxtaposes both realities, emphatically reminding the viewer that this is not The Neighbourhood. Located on the outskirts of Islamabad, it doesn’t represent the pulse of the city…but it refuses to conform.