A group show curated by Alia Bilgrami recently unveiled at Gandhara Art Gallery in Karachi showing the works of Aisha Abid, Ali Sultan, Iqra Tanveer, Jovita Alvares, Malika Abbas, Numair Abbasi, Nurjehan Akhlaq and Veera Rustomji.
Aisha Abid’s project is a visual documentation/moving image of the house of Salima and Shoaib Hashmi in Lahore. It is an anthropological study of the mentioned household as the hub of art and culture through the ages. Salima Hashmi being the matriarch of the Pakistan art world has contributed immensely in teaching and grooming various generations of Pakistani artists. The work evolves to study her character through her living space hence becoming a portrait of her. The narrative personal and simultaneously political highlights the complex areas of character being studied.
Abid’s interest in study of space and relationship of people with their living spaces inspired this piece. It is a poetic take on her persona and peeps into her most intimate spaces to provide clues to observe her emotional and intellectual mental space. The work embodies the socio- cultural narrative of the society through a personalized lens of love and celebration.
Ali Sultan’s work is about his visit to K’s house that is vacant and empty as nobody lives there anymore. The black and white prints show a deserted place that once may have been a thriving park. It depicts childhood memories of mischief and cherished moments shared with friends.
Through frequent documentation and re-documentation, the artist Alvares explores the nuances of daily life through the ever-evolving themes of urbanism. There is an interest in the everyday life of the city, whether it is the monotony of middleclass life or the daily work route to an upper class neighbourhood. Through strategically arranged montage and constructivism, Alvares understands her surrounding and creates work that portrays the spatial present with historical context.
She investigates urban aspirations of security as well as a contrasting need to beautify the space by building floral façades over bleak and rigid urban planning. The bougainvillea plant becomes the protagonist for the artist, as well as a vantage point from where she understands the ever-expanding metropolis. The plant, losing all biological purpose, serves as a mere visual aide against the grey and concrete. Otherwise overlooked, Alvares brings to focus this plant that continues to mould to human expectation, which, unobtrusively commandeers the Karachi backdrop. The resulting artwork become like specimens of her journey and experience, and allows the viewer to see the city from her vantage point.
Through the premise of this exhibition, Alvares aims at understanding the durability and possible replication of her work. Though the final image could possibly be reproduced, the extensive process by which each work is created can never be, even by the artist herself. At each stage of the process, the artist inserts her own humanistic touch, while also allowing time, historical milieu and the source material itself, to speak through.
Malika Abbas’ work is drawn from a personal experience; a journey of loss, joy, regret, acceptance and submission. For the artist, the process of putting this body of work was an eye opener - a realisation of how much she had been hiding, avoiding going through her visual memories. A last attempt to hold on to these memories, to people she was afraid of losing. She was not creating, merely documenting, recording - almost archiving her emotions through these photographs.
Shah Numair Ahmed Abbasi’s practice draws on popular culture, anecdotes and colloquialisms to stage personal and social narratives. His work attempts to challenge the politics behind how gender is socially constructed and performed. The figure of the male nude is a recurring theme, often presented in ways that undermine or question idealised masculine virtues. Abbasi has repurposed dating apps that cater to queer men to understand how the users navigate and perform upon their identity within a transient, virtual realm. He draws parallel between real and virtual encounters and investigates the dynamics of fragile spaces where interactions are dislocated, ephemeral, and motive-driven. In doing so, he inevitably divulges on issues of class, hyper and toxic masculinity, internalised homophobia, and the dehumanising racial fetishization and discrimination prevalent on such forums.
The recent collage work of Nurjehan Akhtaq is the result of her interest in two distinct vocabularies: one rooted in Islamic formalism / ornamentation, and the other in ‘upcyling’ of materials – mainly paper obtained from second hand sources. The two divergent strands intersect in a composite and form the basis of her collage practice which creates compositions inspired by Lahore’s history as well as its contemporary urban landscapes and interiors. She is fascinated by the appropriation of materials and imagery that is commonly used in South Asia for small commercial objects and crafts – and the implications of this ‘second tier economy’. This contrasted with the geometry, flatness and ornamentation found in ‘traditional’ Islamic arts is the space where the ‘composite collides’ in her work.
Veera Rustomji’s film is part of a larger body of work which looks at the movies and songs she has grown up with in Karachi and how she looks back at them now as a 27 year old woman far away from home. The stories and rhymes which were presented to her as a child were never randomly selected by society but rather, curated to make her aspire to be someone or something. Actresses such as Doris Day and Deborah Kerr exuded fantasy femininity and she was so enamoured by them that she forgot to look at their male counterparts. That is, until now. The metaphors behind the roles we play as men and women are constantly engaging in an absent-present state of mind. It has been a slow reckoning to understand the consequences of un-learning certain expectations placed on her and this film is a snippet into that journey.