Conceptualising contemporary concerns

May 12, 2024

A pop-up art exhibition, held simultaneously at random barber shops and the Tollinton Block of the National College of Arts, presented the works of seasoned and new artists who had conceptualised an array of issues pertinent to the present times

Conceptualising  contemporary  concerns


he recent pop-up exhibition by The Roadside opened simultaneously at Tollinton Block, National College of Arts; and at barber shops named Charlie Hair Salon and Hair, Inc. It presented the work of both seasoned and new artists who had conceptualised an array of issues pertinent to the present times.

The Roadside is an artist-led initiative widely known among the fraternity for showcasing art at the most ‘absurd’ places imaginable. In their previous endeavours, they displayed artworks at abandoned and dilapidated shops and unfinished construction sites. This was no different — they chose to exhibit art in random barber shops alongside the historical Tollinton, in the heart of Lahore. This curatorial decision is an expression of their (supposed) alignment with their presentation of ‘chance opportunities’ that occur in the cultural and societal interpretation of conceptual art.

The pop-up was funded by the Global Undergraduate Exchange Programme in Pakistan which is sponsored by the US Department of State. Prof Dr Murtaza Jafri, vice chancellor of the NCA inaugurated the exhibition at the Tollinton Block, showcasing the work of 30 local and international artists.

Karachi-based artist and cultural worker Abi Tariq mesmerised the viewers with his performative video piece. The soundless surreal imagery moved in glitches as a half-naked figure struggled to search for something that seemed lost while encompassed by verdant foliage.

Jabeen Qadri, on the other hand, found unlikely material to display her conceptual drawings. At one point, she chose to deposit her charcoal illustrations inside a zip bag along with dried sea lavender. The other drawing, on kite paper, was pasted on a Tupperware lid. Through her doodles, Qadri attempted to establish a connection with the subconscious mind by manifesting it on materials that might not make sense to the conscious state. The incongruity of materiality is justified by the translation of the subconscious stream into consciousness.

Ali Sultan’s grayscale monotypes envisaged mundane objects, famous roads and headshots in a bleary manner which heavily relied on the viewer’s elucidation not only in the meaning but also in the making of the image.

Bangladeshi artist Mahbub-ur Rahman’s video depicted a hybrid figure, shrouded in a jute net with bovid horns installed on its head, galloping on a horse in the background of the Parliament House. The video delineated the themes of war and violence as a necessity to be acquired by ordinary citizens in order to defend one’s homeland against colonial forces.

Conceptualising  contemporary  concerns

David Alesworth, who divides his time between the UK and Pakistan, explored the themes of humanity’s culturally specific relation with the natural world in his depiction of the map of the United Kingdom. His hybrid identity informs the aspects of his artistic practice and research which expounds on post-colonialism, nuclearisation, environmental degradation and obsolete technologies. The map reminded one of a jigsaw puzzle with brightly coloured county borders that illustrated the various cultures and traditions practiced around the isle as a whole.

Likewise, Ahsan Masood utilised vivid and intense colours to satirise the current security, law and order situation in Pakistan through consumer products in his hand-painted posters.

Huma Mulji and Sophie Hayes’s collaboration, titled Aftermath, explored the shared interest among artists living in different parts of the world, and could be used as a vehicle for the communication of psychological and emotional states. The work was shared as a screen-based text running from below, showing the correspondence exchange between the two artists via email over the period of eight months. The dialogue recorded the imagination, diffidence, influences and distractions of the artists to provide their audience with intimate access to the private intellectual and emotional questions that led them to their final project.

US based poet and educator Faisal Mohy-ud Din’s Ceasefire Haiku was found placed on a barber’s table among a pair of scissors, a comb and a water bowl with diluted shaving cream with residue of shaven hair floating atop. The haiku, cut in the form of a collage that scrolls into continuous stream, leaves drafted a prayer for the martyrs of Gaza. The placement of the profound poem in a quotidian location solidifies the impact of the genocide on our daily lives.

Overall, the artists displayed immense ingenuity in terms of the deployment of material, ideation and techniques in their work. The curatorial team should be lauded for their efforts to make art accessible in the public realm in order to raise cultural and philosophical awareness among the masses.

The writer is an interdisciplinary artist and educator based in Lahore

Conceptualising contemporary concerns