June Issue 2008
Art and Articulation
Societal flux imperils human values compelling the conscientious to voice their concern, and in the art community, artists have addressed this unrest through a multitude of expressions. The most recent was a mixed media sculpture show ‘Simt’ (Direction), by Roohi Ahmed at Canvas.
Seeking the righteous path, she has manifested her observations through sculptural formations, digital photo prints and installations. Questioning life in the light of ethics and ideals has always been central to Ahmed’s aesthetics, and in this show she prompts the viewer to examine his/her location in a world fast going awry. An amalgam of references based on disquieting encounters in daily living, the off-kilter political and social fabric of life and her own sensibility as an artist and educator have enabled her to articulate her unease and emphasise the need to position one’s life in the right direction.
A compelling urge to document her stance has brought forth art in which theme takes precedence over style and medium. A trained sculptor from the Karachi School of Art, Ahmed, however, has not restricted herself to only one mode of expression. It is her concepts that determine her choice of media and style of expression. Opting for contemporary fusion and mixed media vocabulary, her idiom is stylishly inaccessible and invites closer engagement to reveal itself.
Two series of digital prints on professional metallic paper are subtle manifestations of ‘simt.’ The first five titled, ‘Are We Aware of the Directions of the Winds,’ containing images of silk strands, cast shadows and shafts of light which allude to a mysterious illuminated path. Silk filaments are peculiar to the artist’s oeuvre. She has made significant use of them in earlier shows to suggest the finer instincts, the most basic inner consciousness, the soul. In ‘Altitude Changes with Time,’ she documents shifting levels of perception and its bearing on the self.
Human values that reflect the sensibility of ‘Esaar,’ ‘Khuloos,’ ‘Wafa,’ ‘Shukr,’ etc. are crucial character-building sentiments which, unfortunately, are no longer an essential factor in human interactions. Ahmed’s metal sieves, silk threads and china dish, on board sculpture/installations bearing these titles, portray the loss of these noble qualities. The china dish placed at the bottom as a vessel of containment is a symbolic representation of the artist’s effort to cherish and hold onto remnants of these virtues. The ‘Taryaaq’ series comprising truisms inscribed in Arabic on pinewood, with sieve and compass, also emphasise the presence of these dictums in human nature as determinants of one’s sense of direction.
A series of eight images on board, made with packing needles, tellingly enact the disarray that can ensue if one is rudderless. Aptly titled, ‘The Distance Between Two Points is a Flat Line,’ the various pieces show that the line loses its equilibrium whenever it deviates from the straight path. An appropriate finale to the artist’s beliefs was well projected in the body-and-soul installation hung in the gallery space. A body apparition woven in silk was attached to the ceiling, and suspended from it were clusters of nylon fish strings edged with plastic balls. The balls were grouped into a supposedly physical body image that was further reconnected with the apparition, heart to heart, through a cord of red balls. The communication between the tangible and the intangible was clearly manifest.
Consistently delving into themes related to directions since she first began exhibiting her work, Ahmed is now acquiring a certain degree of poise in her presentations. The quality finish and assurance of the recent work de-emphasises novelty and oddity in order to stress and crystallise her point of view. The artist now appears confident about her chosen path.