Contemporary art in Pakistan – an outside view

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As soon as I entered I was surprised by the variety of media and topics that were shown in the recently presented exhibition “Vision Weavers” at the opening of their second art gallery on MM Alam Road “Artsoch Contemporary”.

“Vision Weavers” was no ordinary art exhibition. It was a collaboration of 26 different artists from across Pakistan documenting the diversity of their art practices, media, and diversity of views in modern Pakistan. As a newbie to art, I feel that severe restrictions on freedom of expression are stagnating the scope of artwork in local art galleries and on the city streets.

Lahore is Pakistan’s capital of culture, but Mariam Hanif, curator and co-founder of Artsoch, believed the city lacks public art platforms that create critical dialogue by bringing notable artists and viewers together.

Despite the social fear of gatherings during the pandemic, the large audience participation proved that Mariam, along with Artsoch co-founders Somia Naveed and Shahwaiz Khan, successfully created a true public art platform that captivated the people of Lahore.

The multidisciplinary work of art was presented in three sections: abstract and indigenous art, monument preservation and social issues.

When the viewers entered the huge, brightly lit room, they were greeted by Nazir Hunzai’s 3D sculpture “Undesired Growth”. This sculpture gives the illusion of solid silver and is actually made of polyester resin and fiberglass.

Hussain and Ammar both created massive pieces that looked like hybrids of 3D and 2D techniques. From a distance, Ammar’s catchy “Perfect Chaos” gave the impression of organized marking or a painting with lines peculiar to Impressionism.

However, it was a paper collage with the Found Magazine folded in the shape of paper airplanes attached in an abstract pattern that represented flow and change.

With his work “Gharmas Ghori” an outstanding documentation of folk games was created, which until now has only been passed down orally and has been restricted to the playgrounds of socially marginalized groups. Hussain in ‘Confront’ used an aluminum cake base to create a manipulated mirror-like surface that turned into a selfie hotspot for viewers. While his work ‘Infinite’, 10 octagons of silver-colored polished stainless steel, overlooked the entire exhibition and added an element of grandeur to the venue.

Several abstract paintings displayed intricate skills and techniques that represent the complex Pakistani identity due to its diverse political, ethnic, and cultural construction. Shaukat’s “Poetics” used the techniques of marking with innumerable dots in a complicated and trippy pattern that took every viewer on a journey that is linked to his or her imagination. Sundus and Romessa used tiny and intricate repetitive lines and shapes with faint hints of markings to show the relationship between the non-physical, consciousness, and thought frequency as it manifests and transforms into a physical state.

Abstracts by Ghulam Hussain, Muneeb, Farrukh, and Abid carried strong indigenous sentiments. Hussain wove a canvas that created a dichotomy between a high academic art and a low craftsmanship. A subtle but important message in a country facing increasing disparities in wealth and education.

Abid and Muneeb modernized traditional Islamic Arabic art techniques that represent a modern Islamic identity. In a laborious process, Abid used miniature painting techniques on luminous and reflective gold and silver on wasli. Muneeb used freehand lines to draw abstracts from Arabic letters. Its strokes of paint resembled calligraphic movements, but the final image looked like a black and white piece reminiscent of musical notes flying alongside translucent windsails.

To explain the scope of current issues, Mariam said that sexuality, women’s identity, education, property rights, and the preservation of heritage are some hidden taboos that need further investigation.

Raza ur Rehman, Rida Fatima, Julius John Alam, Shuja ul Haq, Sana Durrani examined the rich architectural heritage and identity of Pakistan influenced by great ancient civilizations of the Ghandhara and Mughal dynasties. Her work examined the influence of the past on our architecture and culture. It also examined how this architecture is changing and intended to be maintained in a country with rapid country-to-city immigration.

Zahid Mayo, Kanwal Tariq, Zamania Aslam, Wardah Naeem Bukhari, and Javaid Iqbal Mughal used symbolism and human anatomy to document identity in relation to death and sexuality.

Kanwal’s video installation of a bird’s foot dancing to the beat of a table reflected the helplessness of our reactions to the chatter of social norms and traditions. The human anatomy as a symbol of death and the extent of a woman’s empowerment over her sexuality were vivid themes in the works of Zahid, Zamanias, and Wardah. Women in a patriarchal Pakistani society have managed to gain a foothold in organized professions. It would be interesting to see if the contemporary art scene gives way to trans artists after the Protection of Rights in 2018, transgender people have the same rights as transgender people.


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