The pandemic has changed the world as we know it. The isolation, the quarantine, the shut off borders and above all – the uncertainty, had made us all endure this lonely chapter collectively. It is something we have gone through alone, and yet, somehow, together. And this is what is special about the exhibition, Print Pals, that was displayed at the Zahoor-ul-Akhlaq Gallery at the National College of Arts, Lahore.
In early 2020, the faculty at NCA invited students from the Department of Printmaking, based out of the Cowasjee Studio, to take part in an exchange with students from The Print Studio at The Slade, a school of University College London. Maryam Moinuddin, a third year student at NCA who was a part of the project, explained that the first stage of the collaboration was students holding meetings with one another through a series of scrambled breakout rooms via zoom. Through these meetings, common themes and topics were identified, which were the deciding factor in pairing students together.
The exhibition showcased the work in pairs, which were created by two students – on topics that held meaning in their lives, while also responding to the lives of the students they were paired with. It was interesting, and perhaps strange, as to how two people belonging to different countries and cultures had somehow enough in common to want to create art on topics that resonated so well with one another.
Penelope Kupfer, who has an MA in Painting at the Slade School of Fine Art, was paired with Fatima Saeed, a faculty member at NCA. “Fatima and I were both interested in motherhood as we both have children and during the lockdown. This became a very urgent topic through additional challenges like time and space,” she says. “Studios were closed during lockdown, kids were around all day and the added chore of homeschooling made the completion of my Master’s degree and Fatima’s teaching very challenging.”
The result of these conversations was the art they created together and that made its way to the Zahoor-ul-Akhlaq Gallery. “The choice of the color in my work is inspired by the surrounding of Fatima’s domestic setting,” says Kupfer.
The essays that were displayed for the visitors are particularly a treat as they help viewers delve deeper into the meaning of the art work and the connections formed by the pairings
Moinuddin states that the topics that arose in the Zoom meeting between students from the two schools included pandemic-induced isolation, the built environment and the body, among others. “For Coral and I, it was the built environment,” she said. “The unique construction of the Muqarnas at Wazir Khan resonated with Coral and she chose to respond with her preferred medium of sculpture.” Moinuddin explained that her work was derived from some of the references she shared of London and visuals that brought up memories of environments that were a backdrop to my her childhood.
Another particularly interesting piece was one that was created by M Talha Shams and Gabriele Ciulli. They both worked on the topic of home and the ambivalence of it. Shams’s work, “A Journey,” depicted a journey of his imagination of the time he spent at his grandparents’ empty home. He would spend his time there sitting or walking around the neighborhood. His work depicted all of what he saw during that time, while also incorporating the chaos of the city, and the presence of his loved ones. On a completely different side of the globe, Ciulli collected household dust and stored them into transparent vacuum bags, arranging them into a cloud-like form – depicting the ambiguity of home. According to the essays displayed at the gallery on the artwork created, “the dust conjures the home as a safe but sterile haven which became a claustrophobic cell during the pandemic, the shape of the cloud expresses his longing to travel.”
The essays that were displayed for the visitors are particularly a treat as they help viewers delve deeper into the meaning of the art work and the connections formed by the pairings. The Print Pals project is being framed within the London, Asia project by a group of students at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. The students involved are taking a graduate seminar connected with the “London, Asia, Art, Worlds” symposium at the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, London.
According to The Slade, the project aims to create the opportunity for global exchange and shared experiences at a time when borders and horizons have shut down in the real world but have opened up online. And as a viewer, it can be seen that the exchanges between the students of these two schools, and their final projects, are not only rooted in culture, but give immense importance to the personal as well.