Paulo Coelho, in his novel The Alchemist considers the importance of the journey. The quest for novelty is overwhelming in many ways. What begins as a journey to uncover worldly existence turns into a discovery of the self – the fine line between reality and the spiritual becomes relative to the fine line between lost and found.
A work titled “In Search of Knowledge -1996” hung on a wall welcomes visitors to the exhibition “Talash-E-Gumshuda” at O Art Space, Lahore (from the 31st of December to the 10th of January). A rhythmic crumpled fiberglass sheet, moderately bigger than A3 paper, with a graphite drawing of Mary in the foreground, and the famous Vitruvian Man drawing in the background, it no longer belongs to history. It is Munawar’s phantasmal projection on to history, reflecting his artistic impulse as well as the exhibitions. Two more comparable fibreglass surfaces are displayed together as we walk into the gallery. A propos of incompatible subject matter painted on crumpled fiberglass is a personification of the self: for instance, “In Search of Knowledge -1986” is based on acrylics and oil paint on fiberglass, denoting an English handwriting practice sheet for kids: working as a portal to the past – reminding me of the desire to write English alphabets within the lines during my childhood.
A linguistic system of Syed’s consciousness is generated by lines that subsequently take the form of barbed wire somewhere in the epicentre. The definitive work of this series is “In Search of Knowledge – 2016.” Produced on stamped paper of Rs. 500, it is a successful attempt to rebuild the agreement between the artist, gallery and the spectator. The chronology in the series encompasses our present, future, and past, which the artist seeks to preserve through imagery.
Themes in art history have existed throughout the ages: exciting as it is to locate the future, yet Munawar seems to have an amplified foresight of art and society. In his interview, the artist echoes the impact of the pandemic, creating a route to self-exploration.
A series of diaristic drawings in white frames ‘’Quarantine diary’’ are done in ink on archival paper, the lines creating an illusion of densely layered shapes, depth, movements, mass, volume, and light and dark. It is a metaphysical collapse of the self in a single moment. Despite the formal dissimilarities of forms in the frames, they represent the pastiche of manifestation of the artist, appearing as altered states of self, time and experience.
The definitive work of this series is “In Search of Knowledge – 2016.” Produced on stamped paper of Rs. 500, it is a successful attempt to rebuild the agreement between the artist, gallery and the spectator
The rational autonomy of the individual subject is not linked to the idea of the unified rational subject in Foucault’s version of the Enlightenment. Far from it, as he viewed it, there are many different types of rationality, each with its own history.
An effective outcome of this diverse experimentation and exploration is manifested in a complex iconographic diptych titled “The Search of Soul” – done in acrylics and ink on canvas. The work is further reinforced and transformed in his series of metal line drawings titled, “Between the Lines I, II, III, IV and V.”
One can notice the overlapping of drawings of animals, the line in continuity creating the form of an elephant, baby, bear, lizard, birds, chair, tiger, cow and much more.
A few metal drawings are hung with a wall with a spotlight on them, creating another layer of the work in the shadow delights you with of urban art experience. The imagery that the artist incorporates refers to prehistoric drawings in the diptych. Yet, the metal line sculptures hung on the wall and displayed on plinths are a very contemporary reference.
Munawar Ali Syed’s approach of working in series is a conceptual act of preserving and exploring material, forms, ideas, and the self.
The idea of the unified rational subject is not merely crucial for the artist. A quest to find the valid answers requires wrong questions, and the artist is interested in both!