Sign, signifier and signified

February 5, 2023

In his solo show, artist Adeel-uz Zafar explores the mysteries linked to the number, three

Sign, signifier  and signified


 creative writer can decide to put a monologue or a dialogue interchangeably between the prologue and the epilogue. One enters the gallery (O Art Space) and sees triptychs of every size and shape, all with the interplay of black and white; some hanging against the white walls, some perched in glass cubes. One remembers the thought-provoking narrative from a triptych depicting the Crucifixion, a triptych on the theme of the Holocaust, Francis Bacon’s Triptych and Al Nour (The Light), a neon triptych by Rasheed Araeen, to name a few. One can’t forget The Apu Trilogy, directed by Satyajit Ray and Qatsi Trilogy, directed by Godfrey Reggio, when seeing the number, 3. The use of geometry in art and design; inspires an architect — a triptych in mind; therefore, Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, Three Gates Tower in Abu Dhabi and The Centaurus Mall in Islamabad all provide evidence of this conviction. Likewise, for Adeel-uz Zafar, triptychs denote the quality of a series — resonating a three-act play, in which “setup, cconfrontation and resolution” make up the structure. Zafar needed more than one frame this time to accurately demonstrate his ideas while exploring the concept of the number 3 and the obscurities that come with it.

There has been a strong link between numerology, palmistry and the colour practice in all societies — in one way or the other. In Little Book of Destiny, William Kennett discusses the connections between numerology and palmistry, a fascinating and compelling foretelling that Pythagoras and Plato discovered and resurrected around 600 BC. They used to talk about humankind’s temporal and eternal paths. This centuries-old knowledge practice still exists; technology has enabled us to use particular apps to determine the course of our lives.

The onlooker wonders why the works show no colours. This has become Zafar’s signature style — engraving on thick aluminum composite sheets painted with black, using a paper cutter. It has been a lengthy journey to reach his medium of choice. Zafar, fully conversant with the long-established drawing tradition, primarily based on actual observation, altered it in his distinctive illustrative modus. The latest works on display were similar to ‘Find The Difference’ game frequently included in children’s books and newspapers to develop cognitive skills in young readers, mainly due to the triptych sets. Some of these are highly challenging to comprehend, while others are easier to recognise. It may also be seen as an allegory on a broader level, taking the shape of a trip through the artist’s experience with incredibly delicate little details in the age of the internet of things. The exquisiteness of resemblances in different things, can be easily found in all-natural manifestations and semi-mechanical errands. For example, fine lines on the pores of human fingers seem identical — but are found to be different when an impression is taken; similarly, while signing multiple documents with a pen, one after the other, one’s signature varies — slightly.

Observing three similar standards in black with a flagpole and top gold ball finial ornaments: all three flags scan readable and legible Arabic scriptures, also engraved in black, using the calligraphic thuluth script. All these translate the Islamic declaration of faith and a primary belief system, mentioning the help from Allah adhering to victory and interpreting that He is the one who gave the powerful means to those who claim to be decisive in this mundane life. According to some sources, early Islamic flags dramatically reduced their design by employing plain black due to Islamic laws on aniconism. Only a well-read historian interested in the anthropology of cultural semiotics might describe how exactly the knowledge of vexillology travelled to South East Asia in particular and got sociologically interpreted by Muslim communities living here and beyond. In Zafar’s piece, Spot The Difference In Mickey, almost identical yet hypothetical cartoonish characters are bandaged up — asserting a story of intense earnestness which is convoluted yet translucent. Zafar uses bandages to challenge identity and the idea of distinctiveness, placed in front of a pitch-black background to create a unique image. As the application is a thin, translucent fabric with a loose open weave — that is used to wrap up a wound or to protect an injured area of the body, one might imagine that these characters might have suffered some accident or experienced an atrocity.

This leitmotif in Zafar’s art style has become so famous worldwide that a K-Pop cultural singer, Juun J, wore a tie bearing his bandaged cat-like creature. Not only did he lend a voice to the emerging popular culture of his own country but also several others.

Another piece in this show was the Cube, a triptych of three-dimensional renditions of a cube perched on white pedestals in glass boxes. All three sides of the cube were rendered with minuscule black renderings, visible only from a particular angle. One might envision the Honoured Kaaba from a bird’s eye view. The Left, Right & Centre of a Portrait shows Fred, a character synonymous with Homepride since his introduction in 1964. This advertising icon was born when he appeared in a series of TV adverts with the message: Great British baking since 1964. Fred is so famous that he has his own collectables shop.

In the Top, Middle & Bottom of a Panel, the various juxtapositions of the loose white bandage, through typical compositions, explore the notion of negative and positive spaces — if one takes these hostile areas to liaison. In Ascension, a few fascinating forms of clouds recap one’s childhood science book, in which the classifications of clouds were mentioned. Cumulus with heaped-up puffs, like cauliflower and nimbus, famous as a rain-bearing cloud, though all resemble the cirrus, which looked wispy on the edges in Zafar’s visuals.

In many respects, a visual commentary on the universe transcends the realm of scientific writing and enters the realm of fictional poetry. Twilight reminds one of Dante’s philosophy, which extols the virtues of the new light, the new sun, which shall rise when the old one sets and give light to those in shadow and darkness because the old sun does not illuminate them, the waning of the predominantly clerical culture, and the emergence of a lay, vernacular urban literacy. Zafar’s intention in his work, Eclipse enfranchises the public readership of his visuals as the concept of occultation is commonly regarded as something to avoid, as it damages eyesight. However, these fragments allow viewers to see them joyfully as the larger-than-life phenomenon has been captured and drawn on a minimal scale.

Crest shows a mountain-scape and a summit in the first two frames; the third one resembles a sea-scape during high tide or a significant snow slide.

The writer is an art/ design critic. He heads the Department of Visual Communication Design at Mariam Dawood School of Visual Arts and Design, Beaconhouse National University, Lahore

Sign, signifier and signified