Numerous painters have found Thar as an attractive theme to paint. But what actually fascinated the painters in a dry desert where life is filled with misery, sorrow and sadness? Artists have answered this question by picking up various themes to paint and unleash the hidden beauty in each subject during the course of the series they produced.
Nadir Ali Jamali, a prolific painter of Pakistan, uses sculptures as his primitive expression. However, in the past 10 years, he has been closely studying the life of tweens in Thar. In this period, he observed various aspects of their lives besides melancholy. It gave him an insight into the depth of the matter as a result, he was able to create such wondrous works. This shift couldn’t have been possible without the close interaction of the artist into the daily lives of these young boys.
Having a profound experience as a painter, Jamali wants to tackle the subject in a different way from how other painters are addressing it and creating a series on the lives of Thar. He created these imageries as time passed by and locking every thought and dream of these children. A solo show of Jamali advocates his philosophy as an artist through an array of thought-provoking works exhibited at the Artciti Gallery in Karachi, not long ago. He not only paints but tries to become a voice of the children through this set of display.
His drive is to give his art a language that is comprehensible and could be heard, spoken and read. He believes that borders are made by man which are not natural thus art jolts viewers irrespective of cast, colour and creed and successfully conveys the message across. His respect for this region and its people is invaluable which is reflective in his art.
The sand dunes describe the tipsy survey and irregular life in the desert. The presence of peacocks in the display is an expression of love and admiration by the artist; of how the blue and green birds glaze the dry desert and catch the attention of many visitors. The people of Thar treat these birds as their family and children grow up with them. Hence, they will never be seen caged or chained but instead move around freely.
If one pays attention to the peacock used as symbols in his work, Jamali is also sending out a message of apprehension about taking notice of the mysterious deaths of these beautiful creatures. The profound understanding and command over the medium make the set of display more coherent for ordinary on-lookers. “I used wash technique to produce this series. I believe that these stories needed to be told and shared with the audience without an unnecessary effort to make them loud. They evolved during the process therefore the result images are fine and articulate,” he explains.
The images seem sprouting from the depth of Jamali’s soul which shares the phases of production of the image, the layers and each layer carrying a different perspective thus evoking sensitive meanings. Jamali’s approach is not nihilistic but the colours speak for themselves; vibrant and finely fused. His vocabulary gets richer and stronger one after another piece of his painting. There is a sense of existence and presence.
His pieces not only shout for visual attention but also summons spectators to understand the notion and the artist’s philosophy which is deeply embedded in the images. Moreover, the pieces are arranged in an explicit way such that they don’t appear to be emphasising the understanding of the surface but the message remains closely associated and significant to the viewers.
The introspective arrangement helps share the crucial details of the paintings. There are shadows emerging from behind or lurking around the boys in the paintings which state dejection and despair although the colours in the same images represent life and hope. The balance of grief and life was a tricky task, although the artist conveyed it very well.
It is noticeable that every painting carries dark gloom around the boys which is their own discoveries to reach their unfulfilled dreams and wishes. Yet, somehow, they survive and look for strength in search of their pathways. The brush strokes seem a mesh of contrast that induces vivacity and gives an instant spark to the images. It twists them from melancholy and shifts the narrative within the same painting from tension and distress towards contentment, elation and anticipation.
If one looks at Jamali’s oeuvre through a traditional and cultural lens and weighs them, his work appears rebellious commenting over the injustices happening in his surroundings. It raises questions about the treatment of these young minds and how they are subject to abuse in every possible way. These imageries eventually become a contemporary as well as a personal dialogue.
“The result is our rootless wondering in every walk of life over the last 6 decades, which is why we have not been able to develop the essential sense of ownership with our land and our life,” laments Jamali.
The melodramatic turns and variations in every painting makes his current body of work unique, distinct and powerful. His techniques and rich vocabulary speak of his connection with his region, Sindh, and how deeply he is connected with these tales. He is proud of his roots, traditions and culture which is another intriguing aspect and can be noticed throughout the compositions.