Print making exhibition, Re-examine Retrace 2.0, showcases works of 26 artists
irst a joke: A corporateemployee attending his boss’s funeral, and kneeling next to the CEO’s wooden coffin,kept talking to himself: Now who is thinking out of the box?
The phrase, often heard in offices, businesses and banks - even in academic environment, means leaving one’s customary practice, for something new, unforeseen anddaring. This is a constant pressure from one’s superiors and the market. It is also an internal demand.
RM Naeem has literally illustrated this situation in his print Thinking About …, in which a young boy is emerging out of an open box. The sensitive drawing of youth’s features, arms, his dress, along with cushion, book, and the background appear in the line-etchingcreated for Re-examine Retrace 2.0; a printmaking project conceived by Studio RM and Adeeluz Zafar. Works produced by 26 participants are on view - from January 13 to 23 - at the ‘O’ Art Space, Lahore.
The project/exhibition involves artists who were not trainedas printmakers. They were invited to do prints in identical size and uniform numbers, using any method (for a box-print). The entire idea of approaching those for whom printmaking is a distant discipline is to make them think out of the box. Significant, since a professional often indulges in repeated visuals, techniques, formats and themes. A survey of Pakistani art may disclose how certain artists after rising to a comfortable level of success, find it convenient to re-produce their tried and tested pieces.
Artists included in Re-examine Retrace 2.0 cannot be labelled under that category, because venturing into a (relatively) new medium became the reason for some exciting imagery. The works of these participants can easily be divided into two groups:one which carry the mark of the maker, and other which require deciphering the artist’s signatures at the bottom of the plate for his/her identity.
One can also approach the show through two points:newness in an individual’s aesthetics caused by an unusual technique; and the newness in a person’s imagery – regardless of what medium he/she has employed. In eithercase, there are some extraordinary outcomes; like Mohsin Shafi’s Love Just Can’t Not Be Crazy. Using stamping, embossing and Xerox printing, Shafi has created a facsimile of popular illustrated treatises of love in Urdu. Manuals to succeed in matters of the heart that are cheaply printed and sold;recipes, instructions and amulets to conquer one’s belovedare reprinted by the artist in a grid of open publications (with some interventions/ overlapping by him).
Shafi’s print reminds us of the history of printing in our region, as well as its class-division. His decision to reproduce pictures of those humble booklets is a way of paying homage to a form of art thatexistswithout being conscious of it. The exhibition comprises a number of works that reveal how a creative mind handles another medium and transforms it. Ayaz Jokhio’s Cotton/Cloud is an example in this regard. Cyanotypes is a technique of placing an opaque object on a sensitised paper, and exposing it to the light. This results in fixing the image on the sheet as blank (white) and leaving the rest of the area cyan. Jokhio has put (physical) pieces of cotton to convert them into (optical) clouds.
It’s not only metaphors; places of residence also crumble with the passage of time. Risham Syed, in her silkscreen print, recreates Lower Mall Series, a visual of ancestral family house, abandoned, depilated and misfit – another metaphor for the past. The past is punctured for a new perception in Kiran Saleem’s print Reimagined History. Luscious burgundy background of flowers (from some historic reference) surrounds a central oval. In Saleem’s print it disappears. There is a void;a white patch. Saleem’s print impresses a viewer with its richness of surface and hue, while posing a question about the hierarchy that often manifests in the form of centrality.
Hamid Ali Hanbhi, for his screen print The Tradition, has assembled three women huddled together in Afghan burqas,commenting on the invisibility of women under this piece of garment. Intriguingly, the layout of Hanbhi’s burqa-clad females ends up as a man’s profile. A completely unintended reading?An accident?
Some artists have replicated their safe and stock imagery in their prints. Adeel-uz Zafar’s incredible bandaged toy figure (Mouse), Amin Gulgee’s combination of calligraphic marks (Algorithm 7), Ghulam Mohammad’s celebrated tiny texts in Hisaar(siege) reaffirm the success of these artists’ works seen over the years. On the other hand, a few relatively new artists, offer uncommon elements in their work. Amna Rahman, with her remarkable facility for conveying the presence and feeling of a person at a setting that could be anywhere – and nowhere, has created a lino-cut of a female amid blades of grass. Resting and contemplating, the character in Rahman’s print indicates anxiety, obsession and repose - allat once.
Rahman’s magnificent facility with thelino-cut tool can be matched by Suleman Khilji’s construction of Transit, a work that in its format and treatment resonates with historical depictions and accounts of travellers across the shores. In a magical-realistic tone, the modelin Khilji’s print seems like a modern-day incarnation of Don Quixote.
The connection of state andsociety and their phantoms are visible in works dealing with some persisting issues. For example, Shehzil Malik’s amazing and socially consciousprint on female emancipation, with its content/message inscribed in Urdu.
The same matteris addressed in a rather remote manner by Sadaf Naeem with faces of women drawn behind a web of lines. A similar approach towards female presence is observed in Saulat Ajmal’s Haloed Grace, with a mysterious/invisible figure – something emerging out of Italo Calvino’s fiction that takes over the centre space.
The writer is an art critic based in Lahore