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Tuesday April 23, 2024

Capturing the reality of a complex society

By our correspondents
December 04, 2017

Like books in the age of the Internet, the art of painting and the practice of printmaking will remain valid in the era of electronic production as well as reproduction of art. At one point, the difference of genres and distinction of forms cease to remain as important as the meaning conveyed through those formats.


With these ideas in mind, the Canvas Gallery launched a five-person art exhibition, titled ‘Five Sides of a Square’, last week. The show is curated by art critic and educator Quddus Mirza, and features works by Amna Suheyl, Ghazi Sikander Mirza, Kiran Waseem, Sana Saeed and Zahrah Ehsan.


The artists approach the ideas around them and about them, employing elementary techniques of image-making, yet within their works they reflect upon a society that is multi-folded and complexly constructed; hence the reality – objective, physical, personal, private and imaginary, residing in memory and recollection – is captured like a world that is round but often represented within like a square.  


Exploring hiraeth


Amna Suheyl has grown up listening to stories of a lost homeland, a perk or otherwise of belonging to a diaspora. Her mother migrated from Dhaka during the riots of 1971, and the lingering trauma has developed her worldview on identity and the sense of belonging, or lack thereof. She mostly incorporates figures and diminished landscapes to create a transitory environment in her prints to evoke a sense of displacement.


Her work started off as homage to a lost homeland, and after the recent passing of her mother, it has taken the shape of a removed, reimagined experience of a life in perpetual emotional and consequential transition. She has also used video art in her work to depict the frustration and longing of recreating lost people and places, to further emphasise the constant identity crisis that plagues a diasporic community.


Her focus is to explore ‘hiraeth’, a Welsh word for homesickness, and to see how this word could define what she aspires to recreate. She has worked with ‘smriti’, a Bengali word for memory, and her future works as well as the work at the residency would also incorporate themes of memory and its perseverance in new lands and people.


The second and constant inspiration for her work has always been literary motifs and poetry. She has used the works of poets such as Ghalib and Faiz Ahmad Faiz that revolve around the sense of personal loss and the loss of a homeland, and she wishes to explore diaspora poems like ‘Hiraeth’ by Tim Davis.  


Confronting traffic


Ghazi Sikander Mirza’s work is about confrontation with traffic while driving across the city, mainly viewing vehicles from the back, with especial focus on Qingqi rickshaws of Lahore.


“When confronted, it is as though a wall of people is being followed, but as soon as one becomes conscious of this relationship, it alters and the travelling people become passengers of the same journey,” he says. “Under the bright headlights they pose and model, pretend to be as natural as would a model in a drawing in an anatomy class.” He works with pictures taken from different vantage points on the streets and draws them in different compositions. The materials he uses vary from charcoal to paint to ink.  


Memory and imagination


Kiran Waseem’s work is based on the idea of travelling where memory and imagination meet and separate. Her passion is for her city and the connection of life with it that flows in the fleeting moment of time. Her process includes multiple layers to create a certain motion by putting paint on the surface that fades away its quality.


“Travelling is similar to memories layering over one another, fusing with imagined events,” she says. “I am fascinated by the way one is unable to tell where memory ends and imagination starts. When I travel, my memories travel with me, and my work holds that same hazy quality in its outcome.”


Leaving traces


“Whenever we leave, we always leave a mark behind: it could be a physical mark on any surface or an intangible mark floating in memory,” says Sana Saeed. “For me, to live is to leave traces, and my artistic practice revolves around these traces: marks on walls, doors, stains on clothes, dust particles on different objects – all of these surfaces are collectors of time. Someone who was once present to leave a trace behind.”


Her work focuses on the uncertainty of life. “One moment you’re present in the strongest appearance, but in the next you’re not. I talk about the nothingness that lies between the present and the past, a stage where a person loses their sense of belonging. For me, all these thoughts and experiences are traces that are left behind by people to be remembered.”


She uses various mediums to record the presence of time that is embossed in countless surfaces around us. She never sticks to one medium because she believes every memory and trace demands its own medium, which is why she has used mediums such as installations, photography, film, writing and painting.


Her aim is to dig deep inside the surface of these neglected marks and develop a conversation with these marks because, to her, these are not lifeless stains or objects. “To me, these are the visual records of the people who were once present.”  


Catharsis through mess


Zahrah Ehsan’s current body of work comprises snippets of the “mess” she created at a recent artist residency at the Vermont Studio Center in the US. It was a way for her to activate her given studio space, allowing her to speak about the incarceration within expectations and promises that are perpetually undelivered.


These paintings are camouflaged with graffiti and drawings on the wall, splatter of paint, edible cakes and festive confetti that are used to represent a stream of unconscious difficulties. The dichotomy between different elements further complicated her space, making the entire process cathartic.


The ‘Five Sides of a Square’ show will continue exhibiting the assortment of artworks, each of which is quite diverse from the others, at the Canvas Gallery until Thursday, December 7.