Pieces of enlightenment

January 5, 2020

National College of Arts (NCA), Lahore, deserves credit for maintaining a fine balance between traditional and modern art practices, by not having a reductivist approach towards art

Photos by Rahat Dar

Text by Huma Maqbool

The legacy of the ‘Copernicus of art’, Marcel Duchamp, who declared ‘concept’ as the centre of art’s milky way, has seen a duct-taped banana for art. These are the times when art is no LONGER constrained within a frame but ignorantly dependent on white cubes, and the viewer gives it life by declaring the death of its author. And these are the times when art is questioned ontologically, more than ever before. In this context, National College of Arts (NCA), Lahore, deserves credit for maintaining a fine balance between traditional and modern art practices, by not having a reductivist approach towards art.

Academically, it’s a huge achievement for this 140 years old institution to be able to impart a theoretical understanding of art which can help its students to have clearer concepts and stronger skills with which they can express and explore their visual concerns. An NCA graduate is trained to focus not just on their skillset or concepts, but both; which is what is evident at the on-going BFA Degree Show, 2019.

Curated by Quddus Mirza, the department of fine arts, with its subdivision of miniature, sculpture, painting, print making and textile, is exhibiting the work of 62 students, including 21 textile design graduates at the Zahoor ul Akhlaq Gallery.

NCA’s miniature department has always challenged the boundaries of miniature painting, both visually and technically. This year, the trend continues. Allaeha Sani, Haye Judoon, Mashal Ahmed, and Rida Adnan have used traditional miniature painting techniques to explore imagery in their urban surroundings, which is typically perceived as the domain of oil-painting. Some of them like Altamash Sever, Hamida, and Hira Asim have taken it further by using a more abstract visual language. And a few like Hamza Ishaq and Syeda Aatika Fatima have taken the typical miniaturist’s visual language and twisted it to tell their own stories. Different aspects of society can thus be experienced with a newness in their works.

Eighteen of the painting students have used canvas to open their worlds to us. Mariam Arshad and Fatima Faisal Quraishi, for instance, not only offer a view into the oft-gnored and overlooked visuals but also make their world stand in contradiction to ours by making us think and reconsider our perception of realities. This is done by means of an art installation where the visuals encroach upon and intrude on our space. Nisaa Saeed and Waleed Sajid’s works are cases in point. Others — for instance, Shams ul Arfeen and Ajiya Asif — explore language which is abstracted from the acquaintance but its visual abstraction makes the known and established questionable.

The perpetual experimentation that print making offers is grasped in the work of six artists: Bismah Hayat, Hafsa Riaz, Jawaria Nawaz, Navid Majeed, Rija Kashif Sheikh, and Sonya Sarki who graduate this year. From etching, monoprint, linocut and aquatint, to mezzotint on copper plate, all have used the basic techniques to investigate and explore the visual concerns that populated their psychological spaces.

This year, all the three graduating sculptors from NCA happen to be female artists. They have used different sculpting techniques that suited and aided their conceptual concerns. For instance, Lubna Aslam has used metal cast to create intriguing details of a bird’s feet placed on tree branches, with absent bodies which makes the viewers focus on the posture of the feet rather than the usual attractive feathered bird.

Shahnur Shahzad’s fragile pieces that highlight the temporal nature of life by looking at the artist intimating objects sculpted with paper.

Zahra Ishaq has smartly explored the geometric abstract forms of her own body proportions, with solid blocks of plaster and wax.

The Textile Department has given space to 21 students to display their work this year. They have experimented with traditional techniques and patterns to investigate their visual and design concerns. Tahir and Mohsin Ali use patterns from two different mosques — Wazir Khan mosque and Maryam Usmani mosque, respectively. Similarly, Nimra Asif uses her local embroidery patterns for her final thesis.

On the other hand, some have used their personal experiences to aid their designs: Mehwish uses puppet as a metaphor for the sign language that she uses to communicate in her daily life. Ayeza Malik expresses the sacrifices her mother made, as a single parent, in her designs.

Some artists have worked on social themes for their theses. For instance, Hayat Ullah from Swat has paid a tribute to Pakistani Army for the Swat operation against terrorism, by using war scenes in his designs. Overall, one cannot help but notice the increasing use of digital printing, compared to the previous years.

On the whole, the NCA Lahore’s BFA degree show, 2019, impresses you with the variety of work that the young artists have made over the course of their four-year degree programme.

The exhibition is on till January 12

Lahore NCA exhibit: Pieces of enlightenment