Themes of alienation, emptiness and decay in a metropolitan recur in the works on display at the exhibit
Last week, an exhibition of paintings opened at the Alhamra Art Gallery. It focuses on the depictions of the city. Hence its title: Cityscapes of Lahore.
The participants are of varying age. They were allowed to work with any art materials they wanted to use. The show is massive in terms of the amount of work showcased. Besides, it does not adhere to any nationalist or anti-nationalist agenda; instead, there is a diverse presentation of what the city means to its inhabitants.
Upon entering the gallery, one is welcomed by the eerie looking work of HM Ibrar, projecting a flat portraiture of the Badshahi Masjid. Its colours are dim and translucent, conveying a sense of isolation. The usually bustling landmark of Lahore is completely empty but for a few vehicles and human figures.
Another interesting aspect of this work is that Ibrar has created a decaying effect in a corner of the painting, which perhaps is a direct narrative about neglect.
Like Ibrar, Samra Iqbal has chosen to portray a decaying landmark. However, she isn’t oblivious to the aesthetic element in the intricate Mughal frescoes. While Ibrar’s focus is on the degradation of the city, others have illustrated the effects of Covid-19 pandemic and the alienation it has caused among the populace.
Several works on display focus on architectural aesthetics and show marketplaces in the inner city as crowded, but the typical and established vendors who are ready to coax you into buying their merchandise are not to be seen.
Artists Nida Irfan, Anwar Khan and Maryam Kamran hae used acrylics and oil paints to capture the emptiness of a world without occupancy. Many others have used more experimental techniques and expressions which are a great joy to gaze at. An abstract depiction of “cityscape” that uses cubist methods of cutting proportions is unique to the show and sticks in the visitors’ minds.
Artists like Nida Irfan, Anwar Khan and Maryam Kamran use acrylics and oil paints to capture the emptiness of a world without occupancy.
Painter Aleesha Mahmood has created a blend of light and dark, mixing apparitions of buildings surging upwards that creates a mirage of a never-ending sky. Her work is in contrast to Sadiq’s work that uses much harsher objects such as nails pushed into stone that encapsulate the Badshahi Masjid, eventually creating an illusion of minute bricks lying on top of one another.
Maryam Ahmad’s stylised perspective of her house, with the Orange Line passing by on an elevated pathway, is also a unique take on life in a metro. The use of pen and ink lends it a comic-book feel.
t is often said that those who haven’t seen Lahore, haven’t lived. The nightlife of Lahore is particularly something that every visitor to the city must experience. Many of the participating artists also seem to feel the same. Their works are vestiges of the busy and colourful nights spent in Lahore, particularly in androon shehr whose culture is most dynamic.
Safa Hafeez has characterised the everyday life in Lahore as well as the flurry of nightlife in her work. On the other hand, Sana Ullah and Aqsa Shahir hae opted for subtler depictions of Lahore’s marketplaces at night time, with a remarkable use of light, shadows and cooler colour palettes.
As one would expect, many artists draw upon a romantic view of the city, as a place that we call home and that we’ve grown up seeing. Their works have shades of Dr Ajaz Anwar’s paintings. Even though many of them show the quintessential daily life, they do not focus on the human characters; they just present the common people in bazaars or streets.
As one stands inside the art gallery, the bright, green ground outside is on full view. One can’t help thinking about the place being culturally vibrant. It’s a place where those participating as well as the audience can equally soak in the cultural and artistic traditions. Events such as this exhibition help build a relationship between the outsider as an observer and the participant as an artist.
Many of the works on display give one a feeling of grandeur about the city. On the other hand, there’s a sense of one being part of a fantastical narrative. Of course, for many, Lahore is a fantasy. Perhaps, this is why one feels like a tourist instead of a resident when viewing such artworks on the city.
The exhibition is currently on at Alhamra, Lahore