The Smog Show, which ended Friday at Zahoor ul Akhlaq Gallery, NCA, couldn’t be more relevant to Lahore
Visual artist Irfan Gul Dahri and documentary filmmaker Jawad Sharif recently collaborated with 17 multi-disciplinary artists and school children, to curate an exhibition that couldn’t be more relevant to the Lahore of today. Titled The Smog Show, the exhibition, which was held at the Zahoor ul Akhlaq Gallery, National College of Arts (NCA), Lahore, looked at the issue in the most creatively diverse ways.
Walking through the graceful gallery space one immediately felt humbled, as its walls resonate with history and have showcased some of the greatest artists the country has produced. The works displayed were in a variety of mediums, ranging from painting to sculpture, installations, photography and literary texts.
The artists’ responses were intense, profound and immediate. An installation, Thick Air II, by Ali Baba was undoubtedly a showstopper. On display was a free-standing sculpture of a ghostly, pallid-looking man imprisoned in a rectangular semi-opaque (frosted) glass box —his face, white like death, looking towards the sky as if gasping for air. The installation was simple yet heartfelt, and drove home the urgency to protect and respect the earth’s natural eco-systems. In contrast, Sameen Agha’s water colours on paper was on a miniscule scale but demanding in its potent message. Our blue, expansive skies are usually lined with delicate white clouds, but instead, Agha replaced them with dark, dirty, dense-looking clouds in a confined, constricted space. Like Baba’s installation, Agha’s heavily painted water colours gave one a feeling of suffocation and desperation. Both works were direct and confrontational, forcing the viewer to acknowledge and accept reality that human beings in this part of the world are faced with.
Kiran Saleem’s choice of material was rooted in irony and symbolism. The artist used “found charcoal,” a natural material which is one of the biggest contributors to air pollution as it emits the deadly carbon monoxide gas in the earth’s strata, and carved it into the shape of a human heart. The heart with its protruding arteries is not beating; it is dead, charred, and left to rot — a reminder of what may come.
The works displayed were in a variety of mediums, ranging from painting to sculpture, installations, photography and literary texts. The artists’ responses were intense, profound and immediate.
Similar to Saleem’s charred heart was Arsalan Farooqui’s work on paper, titled Fallen From the Sky, set against a murky brown background. Here, a black, dense and gooey substance was made to fall from a discoloured sky, reminiscent of the black rain — a potent mixture of debris and soot, warning where once upon a time Mother Nature used to reward humans with clear rain water; maybe no longer in the future.
Tucked away in a corner of the gallery, Suleman Faisal’s sculpture, Symbiosis, was blatant in its message. An armoured torso, which was enclosed in an orange Perspex structure, had been perched on a metal cylindrical barrel. The torso wore an oxygen gas mask as if going to battle, but sadly this time the war was with the environment, which had left it injured and devastated. The orange was reminiscent of the smog-ridden skies of Lahore. Faisal had married two different organisms, the natural and the artificial, to create a symbiosis between the two, bringing them into close physical association. Could this be the new reality in the near future?
Mamoona Riaz’s unassuming digital prints of cityscapes, titled Unreal Cities, also dealt with the dire situation, albeit through a different perspective. Six photographs of cities barely visible, drenched in a hazy mist, looked dreary and romantic at the same time, but were in fact a satirical take on the reality. The smog, of course, is a health hazard slowly seeping into the lungs of humans reducing their lifespan. Umair Ghani’s Poem drove home the same point, albeit in words.
One of the best responses to the smog was the school children’s drawings — colourful, engaging, quirky, spontaneous, and yet ironic and sad.
Some of the children chose to draw themselves playing on swings but under a brown, grubby sky, while some drew factories emitting dark, grey gases. All the drawings reflected a great awareness of the current situation. This is the upcoming generation which will be inheriting a great loss — due to our negligence, insensitivity and greed.
Clean air is a basic right of every living being. No longer can governments turn a blind eye to the matter. Immediate action ought to be taken. Very simply, if humans want to continue to live on planet Earth, they need to heal it, love it, and protect it for the future generations. Greta Thunberg, the global environmental activist, says, “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic… and act as if the house is on fire.” In our part of the world, the house is already on fire.
The writer is a visual artist and educationist. She also writes on art and culture. Her blog is @foodie_treks