April Issue 2009
Looking for the Magic Centre
“In making my sculpture, I do not sketch or draw the work. It is a fluid, intuitive process in which shapes appear in my mind and are then translated directly upon my material. It is a personal journey which in itself is wholly absorbing and highly charged. I know there are no absolute answers in this search for the past and the future, only more questions. And even if the magic centre remains unfathomable, the submission to the process continues.”
(Amin Gulgee, ArtSpace Gallery, Dubai)
Having viewed Amin Gulgee’s work in catalogues accompanying his exhibitions in New Delhi and Kuala Lumpur (KL), I was determined to view and enjoy first-hand the collection intended for display at ArtSpace Gallery in Dubai. Usually, on visits to Amin’s gallery in Clifton, he is in attendance and my focus is somewhat distracted by his charming manner and conversation. On this occasion, he was called away and alone with the work — packing cases standing by for dispatch to Dubai — the sheer force and poignancy of the sculptures hit me. It was, indeed, a memorable experience.
Since his first exhibition in Karachi after his graduation from Yale in ’87, I had keenly followed Amin’s career and witnessed the development in his work, from the exuberance of dynamic youth boldly amalgamating diverse materials, to the maturity of the experienced, seasoned artist. In his present sculptured forms, one discovers the complexities of an artist balancing intellect with imagination and stimulating the viewer with varied moods. Adjoining Amin’s gallery is capacious storage space, which is home to numerous forms in process. Here, one finds sculpture which may be worked upon or put away and reconsidered with the passage of time.
Alone with the sculptures, ‘Embedded Line,’ ‘Fragment V11,’ ‘Dwelling,’ ‘Towers’ and ‘Towers II,’ I began to understand the true spirit of this work. The most affecting experience came from the presence of the works titled ‘Spider I’ and ‘Spider II’ — sculptures of great artistry and elegance — and an enormously powerful work titled ‘The Resurrection.’
At the Tate Modern some time ago, viewing Louise Bourgeois’s enormous sculpture of a giant spider, ‘The Mother,’ situated in the gigantic entrance hall, the form held such a magnetic attraction, one found groups of people sitting around its metal legs. While Amin’s Spider series has its origins in a sequence shown in New Delhi, ‘Flight I’ and ‘Flight II,’ yet they connect with the viewer in a similar way.
‘Spider I’ was one of the first of the artist’s sculptures that did not need a metal plate as a support base. The work contains a line from the Iqra ayat in Naqshi script, patterned in a way that is textural rather than legible: “God taught humankind what it did not know.” As Amin himself explained: “The letters themselves support the composition.”
Some of the latest sculptures display Amin’s experimental approach to script: “I started grinding the surface so the text appears and disappears on the skin of the work.” In the works exhibited in Dubai, ‘Dwelling’ and ‘Towers II’ are the only artworks in which text can be read.
Amin is an avaricious reader, and on his return to the studio, he showed me a book by Keith Critchlow titledIslamic Pattern: An Analytical and Cosmological Approach, which he found to be inspirational. According to Critchlow, a line is defined as one point taken to another point. From the point of interest — the magic centre — the line may become a diameter of a circle and the circle may keep on extending via the length of its diameter, creating other circles. The points can be connected and other circles created. This magic centre became the origin of the sculptures titled ‘Folded Chapatti’ and ‘Cosmic Chapatti 89.’ Both these artworks are about the diameter, numbered 89 because there are eight disks, each nine inches wide.
As soon as the work for the KL exhibition, “Drawing the Line,” held at the Gallery Petronas, from November 8 to January 9, was crated, Amin began to work for the Dubai show. All but one piece, ‘Ocean IV’ — completed four years ago — are new works.
The most awe-inspiring sculpture, in my view, was the work titled ‘Resurrection,’ a development of the Char Bagh series. The spaces between the cross bars are filled with 47 masks of the artist’s face cast in brass, fragmented and reassembled with leaf forms of copper.
In his work Amin analyses diverse aesthetic forms, unifying them with his own creative insight — an ongoing experimentation with space and form. The last sculpture created for Dubai was ‘Dwelling with an Inner Courtyard,’ emerging from the Habitat and Metropolis series exhibited in Delhi and KL. “This is about the divisions of the cube, but this time the cube is no longer mounted upon a point. I thought of the ‘Dwelling’ almost as an architectural model. It also deals with numbers,” says Amin.
As art critic for The Washington Times, Joanna Shaw-Eagle, pertinently observes: “Mr (Amin) Gulgee is an artist to watch, both for the originality of his ideas and the sensuous, handsome quality of his work.”