In Hit Me With a Flower exhibition, Rahim Baloch magically captures our times
Wisps of ribbon and dandelions are what come to your mind while looking around the walls of the gallery. Curated by Aasim Akhtar, artist Rahim Baloch’s Hit Me With a Flower at Karachi’s Chawkandi Art Gallery draws you in with a quiet and exquisite majesty.
Just as Virginia Woolf compares the evening to a woman who has “arrayed herself in blue and pearls” — Baloch’s palette is all moonlight and ocean. He expands his palette to warmer tones for the larger pieces, but it is the blues that transfix the viewer. Recognising nature as the ultimate creative project that teaches us seamless design and judicious systems, Baloch celebrates its elements and structures by employing its ancient worker, the honeybee, as a motif. Cultivated and cared for since the time of Egypt’s pharaohs, these insects are a symbol of professional commitment not to spare the sweat of the brow. The bee is like a doctor to a society — essential and revered. In backdrops of evening and moonlight, Baloch’s signature bees set about their work in dials, crescents and orbits. There is the filigree of a hive, its hexagons barely discernible. Perched inside a silvery bubble, one of the bees releases a golden spray on a dark sea. He is cocooned in a cloud of graphite flowers. It is the stuff of poetry and fairy tales, all ethereal and gossamer. In another work, the bees huddle around a pink flower, a breathless chant of text surrounding them in a circle: “Target killings. Missing persons. Protests.” You almost miss the words in the beauty of the work. Suddenly it all forms a highly personal reflection on vulnerability and discontent.
Trained in the miniature tradition at the National College of Arts, Lahore, Baloch creates images so delicate and beautiful, that one forgets that they sprouted from a place of loss - the death of the artist’s father.
Baloch is fascinated by vacuums, and his wisps of paint create fascinating structures. In one painting, a vortex opens like a flower, in others the lines are fissures, forming a web, or fungal decay. Some evoke a carcass or a hibernating creature. Although compelling, the larger paintings pale in comparison to Baloch’s smaller works, which leave you awe-struck. These lyrical pieces look as though they were created by smoke or magic. The paintings are subtilised, opening like flowers as you spend time with them.
Trained in the miniature tradition at the National College of Arts, Lahore, Baloch creates images so delicate and beautiful, that one forgets they sprouted from a place of loss - the death of the artist’s father. That is why throughout there is a feeling of transience: his large nebulous webs are precarious; his figures are fleeting. The artist seems to carry this impermanence with him. He hails from Balochistan, which has seen places like Quetta, once a happy city of fruit trees get disfigured. A glowing elfin figure disintegrates while reading a book, fibres of his being dissolve into dandelion strands, floating into the night, joining (one hopes) a larger universe. He is surrounded by mountainous forms that mirror his body. This piece is especially poignant. Although in his statement, Baloch says his practice pacifies him “and becomes a source of calm and solace”, this work opens a wound. We know we are only briefly seeing the figure and that soon all will be gone. The artist reminds us of the eternal questions about life here and hereafter and about dust returning to dust.
The show coincided with the Tokyo 2020 Olympics — an event whose name alone conveys disruption as it was held in 2021 not in 2020. Curiously, neither Baloch nor Aasim Akhtar could fly to Karachi for the opening of the exhibition, which was then postponed in view of the increasing coronavirus cases. Baloch points to our vulnerability in a vast world, where invisible armies can invade our bodies and the planet. It is as if the universe were echoing the message of the paintings, that we, frail humans, can disappear like pollen, and become part of the blades of grass and flower petals.
The author is a Karachi-based artist and writer