The National College of Arts raises its own bar of excellence at the end of each year with its Bachelor’s Degree Show. This year it had 29 students from the Fine Arts Department who projected their ideas and thoughts in an immaculate display of paintings, drawings, sculptures and video projections.
As we enter the first gallery, we see Bilal Khalid’s skillfully rendered drawings and etchings of graveyards and tombstones in hues of grey as a reminder of our temporal existence and the ultimate reality of death. In the other half of the gallery is a recreation of a studio space by Rao Hassan, who depicts the artificiality of life by meticulously painting plastic flower bouquets.
This time, even though the country is still in a state of conflict, the body of work on display is pleasant, hopeful and enthusiastic
Figurative paintings in an array of colourful canvases are seen in the second gallery. Jahanzeb Haroon paints various scenes of both public and private spaces in Pakistan and Italy, combining a spirit of familiarity within the two countries and their people. Tooba Ashraf’s images create a sense of nostalgia with a carefully composed assemblage of memories from her family photographs.
From the bright canvases of memories, one walks into the third gallery and finds darkness painted, ironically, in the most illuminating manner. Eesha Suhail’s photo-realistic paintings of her usual surroundings and objects at her house and Fizza Hussain’s large gardens of thick foliage and animals delve deep into the meaning of life and relationships.
Another stimulating work that speaks to the extensions of life and its associations is Maha Sohail’s suspended sculpture of plastic ropes in the passageway that connects to a studio displaying works from four promising artists. Sana Najam, and Aliha Ahmed produce intricate miniatures as a commentary on politics and interpersonal dilemmas, whereas Koushar Hashmi and Ali Shariq create images within images, and render a thought-provoking dialogue on the nature of art and its communication. Hashmi’s work makes an exercise of an eye revolving to find delicate details inside a painted surface and Shariq simply portrays rather complex ideas in art and its understanding.
Yet again another instance of complexity painted in utter simplicity is that of Namsh Touqir’s geometric divisions which are shown as mirror images, followed by mathematical formulations of Iman Sara’s notebooks and sketches that define sacred and spiritual calculations in geometry.
Stepping out of the precision of design and pattern are Sabeen Ahsan’s organic forms depicting the flesh of the human body in layers hues. Sehrish Mustafa also explores similar concepts of the skin, landscapes and the animate with her luminous glazed mixed-media miniatures on glass.
Next to these paintings is a powerful and heart-wrenching video projection by Sana Jafri. A compilation of 2,600 photographs and paintings, the video is titled ‘Safe space and subterranean filth’ and can be viewed after walking through a one way route, the wardrobe of a young girl. The exit is another installation, and not meant for the weak-hearted. The whole setup is an unforgettable experience and alters much about our perception of the world that we live in today.
To grip more firmly to the reality of the world we live in, the visitor finds Noreen Jahan’s sculptures and Shahid Altaf’s miniature paintings. Jahan’s commentary on duality, decay and waste is seen in her brick walls with empty bags protruding and the reversal of industrial waste plastic bags as cloud suspensions. In a similar vein, waste within urban settings is painted by Altaf in a manner that dirt becomes a part of a space that, from a distance, appears pristine and clean but a closer look shows another view altogether.
Nizam Balouch also creates a fume of the decayed and the lost. He synchronises the images of the past through the prism of the folk instrumental music of his native region. Balouch’s work questions the representation of history in the mainstream.
Not only representations of history but self-representation and self-reformation are also explored, whether they be conjoined acrylic sheets, layers of linen by Hira Awais, linocut prints by Shehzil Raza or parts of human body juxtaposed with animals by Minahil Ijaz. Both tend to play with duality and delve deep into the terrain of self-realisation. Anusha Khalid’s portraits have the effect of bewildering the viewer by their scale and skill.
With skillful work comes another set of images embedded in compassionate worldviews – from Noroz Ali and Rizwan-un-Nabi Butt. Ali refers to the homeless and Butt comments on the many veils within people and nations that hinder growth and cultivation.
Culture, religion and social cultivation within various communities through art and architecture appear to be major concerns for Hajira Ahmad and Zarina Khan. Ahmad’s subliminal approach to the subject creates an awe-aspiring view towards submission and faith and Khan’s paintings, composed of images from public spaces, particularly graffiti and traditional miniatures, say much about the people and places that surround us. Where immortality becomes a subject, Israr Ahmad creates images with clay and soil and shows how time blurs the content of the self in dimness and fear.
Connectivity within cultures, civilisations and communities are spiritual on one hand, as Ahmad explains, but they are also material and quantifiable, as expertly executed by Risham Faiz and Rahman Zada. Faiz’s dexterity with a marker is beyond commendable. Her linear approach towards the construction of an illusion of wires and poles is mesmerising. Zada replaces the organs and the veins in a body with those wires. Though small in size, the paintings nonetheless leave a powerful impression on the viewer.
The National College of Arts, perhaps due to the prevailing situation in the country, had in the past exhibited quite a few Degree Shows with students talking of war and pain. This time, even though the country is still in quite the same situation, the body of work on display is pleasant, hopeful and enthusiastic. It discusses serious issues but also emphasises the hope of some sort of resolution for them. This points to the maturity of the graduating batch and to the efforts of the faculty at NCA in nurturing these young artistic minds.