All of it is done with a fair degree of theatricality to it-- White Star
All of it is done with a fair degree of theatricality to it-- White Star

An exhibition of Masooma Syed’s artworks titled Spirits opened at the Canvas Art Gallery on Tuesday.

Some of Shakespeare’s lines have been so overused that they have become painfully trite, as a result of which they don’t sound Shakespearean anymore. One of them is, “All the world’s a stage/And all the men and women merely players.” But viewing Masooma’s work on display refreshed the line in a distinct way.

For instance, her effort has a remarkable air of contemporariness and at the same time there’s something endearingly and equally traditional about it.

You know that the artist’s approach to her subject matter — life and death and all that comes in between — conceptually belongs to the 21st century, and then you are also transported somewhere else where questions about human relationships, identity, violence and social mobility are highlighted just as they would be highlighted many moons ago. And all of it is done with a fair degree of theatricality to it.

Now why does Masooma call her characters (and perhaps settings) spirits?

Answer: there are two connotations here, one of which is to do with strong drinks, and the other is related to the non-physical aspects of living beings. The latter, for this writer, has more resonance in relation to the exhibits on display.

The reason is that the physical side to men, women and the things that men and women go after (or move away from) has an intangible effect that lasts longer than the tangible one. This is evident in pieces such as ‘Dear Love’ (photographs, acrylic paints, wood, cardboard, foam board, LED lights and acrylic sheet) where the viewer tries to understand the backstories of the characters and backgrounds that can be seen (read: touched).

In ‘Dutch Quarter’ the scene is clearer than the other artworks but the characters’ back(s) to the viewer evoke a similar feeling — of grasping what had happened in today’s context.

The exhibition concludes on Feb 15.

Originally published in Dawn, February 7th, 2018