In the rustic setting of Karachi’s FOMMA Art Gallery, a school attendance register lay open at the door, marked with a number of absentees. But it was not meant for roll call. Instead of student names, the register listed emotions like unity, compassion and isolation; ‘fear’ had the highest attendance in December 2014.
This piece by Anam Ashraf, dedicated to the victims of the Army Public School massacre, attempted to portray in physical form the intangible emotions that surrounded the tragic event.
In the other corner of the room, an empty staircase structure stood too close to a door. Not far from that, decomposed canvas hung off a toilet paper stand. At the far end, an assembled structure appeared to emulate a human figure in a kneeling position, which depicted the cycle of life.
Nine young artists from Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture showcased their work at a one-day exhibition titled Origins, in which they explored their personal spaces through a mix of sculpture and two-dimensional pieces.
Consumerism and the journey towards personal transformation
One of the largest pieces on exhibit was a dollar bill imprinted on a wooden canvas bordered with an intricate pattern. But the face of George Washington was substituted by the dual faces of Queen Elizabeth and Benjamin Franklin in the piece.
The artist Shanzay Subzwari aptly chose to use the symbol of the dollar – one of the most powerful currencies in the world – to represent the power of consumerism.
The duality of faces on the currency served to highlight the political ambiguity in decisions that affect the entire global population.
“There is a power tussle between world leaders, and the general public is largely unaware of the mastermind behind the decisions that affects us all. Who are the real puppeteers?” said Shanzay, while explaining her work to some visibly perplexed visitors.
The theme of deception and uncertainty was also reflected in her work with the addition of a blue rose, which in reality has been impossible to emulate.
“The promises made by our leaders are as impossible and fake as the existence of a blue rose,” said Shanzay.
A pink cast also attracted a number of visitors, who were seen mulling over its ambiguous shape. It resembled a human form, bare and revealing. Right next to it, the same structure was camouflaged, sitting alone on a bench or a balcony, hiding its true form from the public.
Through her piece, Samra Zamir showed her personal transformation by casting her own body, giving that a form and displaying it in both public and private spaces.
“This is how I personally feel in both private and public spaces, as you can see when the cast is left outside, it is hidden and self-conscious,” she said.
Because of the possibly scandalous nature of the personal cast and the disapproval of nude art in society, Samra decided to distort the structure further so as not to perfectly represent a human body part. The slight disfigurement also questioned society’s concept of ‘ideal’ and ‘perfect’ beauty with a fixation on sizes and shapes.
“I struggled with my own body and was extremely harsh with myself. By putting a part of me out there and seeing people marvel over it is astonishing since it is the same body that they were not too fond of before,” said Samra.
Flawed architecture and faulty relationships
Drawing inspiration from faulty architectural plans, Kulsoom Sajjad decided to recreate the rejected pieces and give them a two-dimensional form in an attempt to see how they would materialise in reality.
“Architectural plans have always fascinated me. One that appealed to me the most was a staircase that was too close to the door. I wondered how it would look like in real life,” shared Kulsoom.
The architectural montages used overlapping images with multiple layers till the actual structure became hard to decipher. “Through the montages, I was simultaneously creating and as well as distorting images. I wanted the art to play with the viewer’s mind. They are interior spaces but you can’t tell that by a single look.”
Another captivating pieces was Samreen Sultan’s take on relationships in Pakistan. Her artwork showcased an out-of-the-world experience to indicate emancipation from constricting, binding relationships that are dictated by society’s norms and traditions.
In her piece, a couple is seen distant from environmental restrictions and engrossed in their own utopic world.
“The body wants to be released from the suffering, from boundaries created by society and its dictation,” said Samreen.
In another piece, she portrayed her own self on the moon, carefree and let loose as a personal representation of a body’s strained effort to fit the society’s cultural requirements.
On the cycle of life and decay
Taking inspiration from the Italian movement Arte Povera that used common materials in their pieces to subvert the commercialisation of art, Yasser Vayani took things off the street to make his own masterpiece.
“I would stare at the seemingly common pieces and then write about them. I find a human quality to each of the objects, which also gives them a unique quality of their own.”
By moving around the objects in different forms and shapes, Yasser assembled his piece that showed the cycle of life from birth to a steep death. He showed the abrupt phase of childhood, then an elongated journey of life represented through a tattered wooden surface, and then an abrupt downward movement of death.
“By bringing them together and seeing the metamorphosis from discarded objects to works of art is a comment on the industrial world we live in, and how there are multiple ways of looking at any objects,” said Yasser.
In his second piece ‘Form and Void’ he made use of different textures and materials: marble, ceramics, metal and plastic, all of which have varying worth and value. The artist made use of these together to comment on the unique quality of every object and the fascination with the individual aesthetic value of each.
“Marble is considered the most expensive and highest among all other material while ceramics is perceived to be of lowest quality. I reversed this hierarchy completely by putting ceramics on top of the stack.”
Shaheen Jaffrani’s use of decaying canvas as a substitute for white toilet paper and towels represented the parallel realities in life. The piece reflected upon contradicting human nature of cleaning our bodies but letting the environment rot in filth. “People who are most worried about decay are carrying it within themselves.”