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September 9, 2019

Expressing personal experiences through art


September 9, 2019

The Canvas Gallery is hosting Ahmed Ali Manganhar, Amna Rahman, Anusha Ramchand and Yaseen Khan’s art exhibition titled ‘The Skin We Live In’ until September 12.

Quoting Manganhar, the statement released by the gallery said the paintings on slate began in 2003 as a mapping of his personal journey through various institutions: educational, emotional, spiritual and recreational. Along with his larger works, he keeps working on slates, adding images trapped in time.

“To me, slates are reminders of school: another institution. Surat Takhti — as it was called then — was the initiation into writing, calligraphy and formal education,” he said.

“It seemed to me a game of negative and positive spaces; a space for telling stories in the narrow confines of paper or slate. Some of these stories were about the power of the storytellers to speak about home, spirit and art, but my desire was always to depict them as a history of emotions.”

Amna’s body of work is divided into two parts. The first part deals with the world inside. She said reality is often distorted by fiction or anecdotes, as each one of us conceives ideas and notions according to our own circumstances and experiences.

“My small bubble of reality consists of my friends, who are close to me. Thus, these portraits are of a very personal nature. While I photograph my subjects, I have intimate conversations with them, which helps me depict their persona.

“When I paint them I sometimes noticed their features more accurately than they have been able to. Once, I mentioned to a friend that I observed that she plucked the hair from above her eyebrows, leaving the ones underneath untouched. She was quite astonished and told me that nobody else had noticed this.

“These portraits are my versions of my friends, for they are made up of the impressions my subjects have left on me. In my work, it is important for me to achieve a sense of melancholy, a reflection of myself. I try to achieve a sense of internal alienation and de-familiarisation with the viewers with the help of my subject’s external uninviting gaze.”

The second part deals with the world outside. This series of paintings is a contrast between her groomed female subjects and dogs in their natural state.

“These dogs are depicted in this manner to symbolise the human subjects’ unbridled feelings. Unlike humans, dogs do not hide what they truly feel behind façades. Their faces have so much character and their skin has so many textures, forms and colours.

“One of the many things that inspired me to work with this theme is my study of Francis Bacon’s work. When asked why he painted few ostensible subjects and horrific carcasses, he said, ‘When you go into a butcher shop, you see the beauty of meat, how beautiful meat can be; but when you think about it, you can also think of the whole horror of life, of one living thing living off another, the natural pattern of life.’

“This description has struck me hard. I have a vivid image of his portrayal of our selfishness, pretentiousness and the masks we wear to impress others.

“Another source of inspiration is the emotions of dogs, which seem to hold a certain depth. Stray dogs are exterminated in Karachi and in many parts of the country through several brutal campaigns. To me, this has become a signifier of an attempt to promote emotional indifference and estrangement.”

Quoting Anusha, the statement said black and white, good and evil, rich and poor are facets that coexist, yet no similarities can ever be identified between them.

“These polar opposites reside within us too, to the extent where our intentions are sometimes irreconcilable with our actions. This infers the existence of multiple personalities that often blur the lines of what is authentic and what is not,” she said.

“A concrete occurrence of this is the vast popularity of social media, through which we conjure a virtual persona that is vastly different from reality. This sparks the constant need to feel validated by those around us, where everyone desires that which is culturally and socially acceptable. In order to attain cultural conformity, people start losing their own identity.

“The lack of personal identity often leads to the formulation of a social hierarchy which determines a person’s standing rather unjustly. The commonly observed sense of superiority and inferiority is imposed onto people as a result.

“The fundamental basis of most kinds of discrimination like sexism, religious extremism and racism stems from these issues. It only worsens as these complexes transform people into torn-down buildings, which are easier to tear down and be left to rot than to rebuild with a new foundation.

“However, rebuilding it is not out of the question. One possible remedy is the formulation of a universal language, which is an important element of my art. I want to show that people who seem visibly different or actually stand on different ends of the social spectrum could relate and communicate with one another through this language.”

Khan’s artwork is produced from a very personal experience in life. It depicts the communication gap between different cultural groups of Pakistan. Coming from both Sindhi and Pakhtun background, he observed a vast cultural difference, which he has tried to portray using Chamak Patti: a medium used to decorate trucks.

“Before undertaking my degree, my job as a mechanic not only entailed mending trucks but I was also responsible for decorating and applying Chamak Patti on those vehicles,” he said.

“The inclination towards this medium was very organic for me. Undeniably, I have a personal relation with and a deep adoration for trucks and large transport vehicles.

“I believe I have reinvented and re-contextualised the technique of Chamak Patti in my practice, which is otherwise only seen as a craft or design practice.

“I had observed that different cultures represent themselves using the same medium, yet there remains a gap between them. Hence, I have transformed this medium into my practice as an artist by creating abstract visuals on the same topic such as noise and error.

“The main hindrance for me was to understand and communicate in any language. I used to have difficulty comprehending languages whenever I watched television. This is the similar experience I want my viewers to have when they engage with my work.”