Tuesday May 24, 2022

An encounter of medium and message brimming with meditative moments and gentle enticements

By News Desk
January 24, 2022
An encounter of medium and message brimming with meditative moments and gentle enticements

An art exhibition titled ‘Hazaar Dastaan’ opened last week at the Canvas Gallery. The show featuring works by Sabina Gillani will run until Thursday, January 27.

“Sabina Gillani, an accomplished printmaker and painter, was forced to give up her highly proficient practice as an etcher and lithographer after sustaining a shoulder injury in the printmaking studio at the Slade School of Fine Art (London) in the 1990s,” says artist Salima Hashmi, who curated the exhibition.

“Undaunted, [Sabina] reinvented herself as a contemporary miniaturist after extended studies with Talha Rathore, Fasih Ahsan and Imran Qureshi, her old NCA [National College of Arts] friends and fellow artists. Since then, her practice has absorbed many strands and mediums.

“Having lived in Nigeria, Algeria, Indonesia and Canada, and now, after many years in France, the work carries overtones of her peripatetic existence. The loss of a permanent abode informs much of the wistfulness in her oeuvre.

“The one continuous link is a search for locating the body in its inner and outer transformational universe. Ever mindful of the turbulence of our times, she keeps her focus unerringly on a deeper manifestation of human survival.

“This is reflected in gently layered surfaces, oblique historical references and allegiance to meticulous, poetic mark-making. Meanings have to be excavated in Sabina’s delicate works, which are loathe to give up their secrets without setting up an intensive dialogue with the viewer.

“Alongside her recent work, this presentation takes us back to her years as a printmaker. As the artist says: ‘In printmaking one starts with an intensely laborious process in the preparation of a pristine surface: polishing an etching plate and grinding a lithographic stone.

“‘This long process goes towards forming a visceral relationship with the surface. Then one proceeds to destroy and break down the surface built with such laborious care to create something new; this process is like a dialogue between the surface and the artist.’

“The ‘Landscape’ series are very dark etchings grappling with displacement. Sabina’s journeys have led to encounters with artists in museums which have been deeply influential. Rothko’s ‘Seagram’ paintings at the Tate drew her into their immersive worlds, engulfing her with colour and evocative gentle mark making.

“Sabina’s process commences with the barest of sketches, a hint of a mood, an identifiable feeling, which does not insist on a final form, allowing the process to dictate the journey. Being distanced from ‘home’ has deepened her sensitivity to the violence and conflict which have become part of our existence today.

“This includes the incidents in France, as well as in Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere. There are subtle references to the minds and actions of the ‘believers’ as she herself withdraws into a state of reflection, of calmness and repose.

“Her intuitive affinity with the Sufi message is informed by music and poetry, culminating in imagery, which leads the artist to materials and mediums of its choice. This encounter of medium and message is brimming with meditative moments and gentle enticements.”

The artist, Sabina, says that over the years her art practice has developed in ever-widening concentric circles of engagement — from the self to wider concerns. As an artist, she finds herself compelled to engage with her environment and the events that govern everyone’s lives.

“The nomadic nature of my life leading to a degree of isolation has played an essential role in forming my art practice. As a result, I turned to books to inform and develop my ideas and music and poetry as my faithful companions.

“I like to think of myself as a printmaker who paints. The surfaces of my paintings are treated like an etching plate: they are prepared meticulously using the rigorous traditional techniques of Indo-Persian miniature painting and then destroyed to build something new.

“Responding to events in Iraq and Afghanistan, I started to explore the notion of identity and violence in 2007, leading to the ‘Portrait of a Suicide Bomber’ series.

“The work addressed the dichotomy between acts of extreme violence and its supposed objective, Paradise: the state of sublime beauty. However, as violence spread into Pakistan and then France, over time my approach changed.

“Rather than thinking of it in abstract terms, it drove me to reflect on the pain, suffering, loss and destruction caused by violence. I asked myself how could someone address the pain of others without being manipulative and insensitive. I turned to poetry as a means for transcending the ugliness and the futility of violence.

“Poetry and a quote by German artist Anselm Kieffer, according to whom ‘art has to take responsibility, but it should not give up being art’, formed the framework for my creative practice. I invite viewers to dialogue with my paintings and look for meanings through their lived experiences.”

Born in Lahore, Sabina now lives and works in France. She graduated from Lahore’s NCA in 1987 with a major in printmaking. She pursued her postgraduate education in printmaking at London’s Slade School of Fine Art from 1992 to 1994.

Due to an injury, she had to abandon her practice as a printmaker. She taught printmaking at the NCA from 1996 to 1998, during which time she learnt miniature painting from Talha Rathore, Fasih Ahsan and Imran Qureshi. She has been teaching art to primary schoolchildren since 2015.

She has been the recipient of various awards and grants, such as the President’s Gold Medal for painting in 1991 from the Pakistan National Council of the Arts in Islamabad, the Don Philips Scholarship for etching and lithography at the Open Studio in Toronto in 1991, the Ontario Arts Council grant in 1992, and a scholarship from the Aga Khan Foundation in Toronto in 1992.

Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally in solo and group exhibitions. Her work features in private and public collections in Pakistan and abroad.

— Photos courtesy Canvas Gallery