Pakistan’s socioeconomic predicament shown in art

An edited version of this article was first published in The Express Tribune on Jun 3, 2013.

Islamabad – On opposite walls at the Nomad Art Gallery, the works of two young artists, Syed Faraz Ali and Irum Khokhar, address two issues that appear to be mutually exclusive at first glance.

But the global political conversation in Ali’s opinionated paintings and the nostalgia of childhood games in Khokhar’s modern miniature pieces are, in fact, strangely interconnected.

Taken together, the paintings attempt to locate the answers to Pakistan’s present-day sociopolitical predicaments at the intersection of international politics and the social effects of the 21st century’s technological onslaught.

The exhibition will open for public at the gallery on Monday, June 3, and will continue until June 13. It will be inaugurated by Rodolfo M Saravia, Ambassador of Argentina in Pakistan.

Ali reflects upon regional and global politics in the post 9/11 world in a way that draws audiences into a conversation.

The central character of each painting is a different semi-naked, brown-skinned man, caught in different postures on the canvases. The characters have an illustration-y feel to them but their facial expressions are often detailed and finely drawn.

Ali declares his political statements directly through the interplay of these human characters with objects that symbolize abstract ideas. In different paintings, he uses images of a bulb, Afghani kettles and a fish to show hope, regional conflict and freedom respectively. World maps in some paintings add context and spell out the US intervention in the region.

In one painting, he shows a brown man, his private parts covered with a garment fashioned out of a US flag, holding a gun and a kettle from which a cartoon genie has emerged. Ali thinks wars are fought to control resources and the genie and a couple of dollar bills suspended in mid-air near the man’s feet represent the financial gains for certain lobbies from conflict.

On the other hand, Khokhar’s modern miniature paintings are a nostalgic trip down memory lane for the ’90s generation. She recreates memories by showing playground games and children’s activities such as hide-and-seek, “paper fortune teller,” paper planes and playground rides.

Khokhar said she was compelled to revisit her own childhood memories because of the way technology has captured the daily activities of children these days.

“Today’s children are so tied up with the electronic media and video games that playground activities have almost vanished,” she said.

In one intricate painting, she shows a view from above of six girls playing a popular string game often called “Cat’s Cradle”. Her attention to detail and the novel idea of attaching actual pieces of strings to the painting’s surface give Khokhar’s image an original tactile feeling.

Khokhar used the actual-object technique in other paintings as well, such as around 20 paper fortune tellers, in different states of opening and closing, on a white background with light sketching in another.

Nageen Hyat, the director of Nomad Gallery, said the paintings by the two artists apparently contrast with each other but also connect to give a picture of our current lived experience.

“On the one hand, you have a series of paintings that is intellectually important and on the other hand, you have pieces that are socially relevant,” Hyat said. “(Their work) reflects the imbroglio of the War on Terror and issues emanating from personal discourse and their living experiences.”

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