One of the most oft-quoted lines taken from a 20th century novel is: ‘The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.’ Here, though, memory is taken as a collective noun.
In an exhibition of Marium Habib and Rabia Ali’s artworks that is under way at the Art Chowk Gallery, it is more of a personal journey. The reason lies in the title of the show, Body Memories.
The two artists, perceptively enough, express these personal subjects, which may not necessarily be their own, in distinctly dissimilar ways. Habib leans more towards the tangible aspects of everyday life, while Ali chooses a train of thought deciphering which requires inward-looking of a different kind.
Both, however, insist on the importance of experience. The curatorial note reads: “Before it enters the mind, an experience makes contact with the flesh. This stage is rudimentary, essential to the lesson but largely unexciting in the moment. The moment’s repression is not just psychic, but social. We are taught to mostly forget.”
What is that moment? To elucidate it, the note, furthermore, talks about the ‘tactile’ element in that experience. Now it’s clear that the artists are focusing on body and the way it reacts to sensory perceptions. For example, in ‘Going Stag’ (chalk pastel on paper), Habib in one instant captures two reactions in a symbiotic relationship, which defies a solitary interpretation.
And in ‘Anamnesis’ (enamel on canvas) Ali brings into focus the similar ‘recollection’ issue in a manner and style that push technique, and therefore the importance of her medium, to the front.
To the credit of Habib and Ali, doing so, they keep the visual beauty inherent in raising such questions about reminiscences unharmed. It keeps the relevance of the topic intact and at the same time elevates it to a level where finding responses to difficult queries becomes relatively easy.
The exhibition, curated by Noor Ahmed, concludes on March 7.
Published in Dawn, February 29th, 2020