December Issue 2014
Art Review: Mohsin Shafi
“The poor image is no longer about the real thing — the originary original. Instead, it is about its own real conditions of existence: about swarm circulation, digital dispersion, fractured and flexible temporalities. It is about defiance and appropriation just as it is about conformism and exploitation.” — Hito Steyerl
Sadaism is Mohsin Shafi’s spin on Dadaism, an artist’s movement that emerged in Europe during the early 20th century, which rejected traditional forms of artistic expression in favour of collaboration, experimentation and absurdity.
Shafi uses collages, often directly referencing specific works of art, to create an interplay between various images that dominate the Pakistani political landscape — posters, graffiti, photographs, billboards television and the internet. On a superficial level, the works employ the sort of humour found in political cartoons or when one encounters a torn political poster on a billboard from beneath which an old advertisement of some cosmetic cream peeps out, giving a certain bearded politician shapely legs…
Essentially, the exhibition seems to be an in-depth exploration of the politics of the image. The above quote by Hito Steyerl refers to a ‘poor image’ — a pixilated or blurry image of low resolution — which allows it to be printed out in bulk and potentially be used as a tool of propaganda and exploitation. However, the very nature of such images also allow them to rebel against their creators by making themselves accessible to the masses, who then alter their physical form or meaning as they please.
Mohsin Shafi places ‘poor images’ of politicians over or alongside other images of famous artworks or historical photographs. One work titled ‘Bibi Kahlo’ shows Benazir Bhutto pasted on a portrait that is reminiscent of those painted by the Mexican surrealist, Frida Kahlo. Another work uses an image of Marcel Duchamp’s ‘Bicycle Wheel’ as a halo hovering over Imran Khan’s head. Each work contains multiple narratives, with politicians featuring as various characters. The exhibition explores their identity or image vis-Ã -vis the public. The collages seem to depict various and often conflicting perceptions of these leaders, by either reinforcing certain stereotypes, refuting them or creating something completely unfamiliar through juxtaposition.
Shafi’s use of political imagery, sly humour and visually interesting compositions would appeal to a cross-section of society. Ironically, this use of political imagery also makes it difficult to exhibit such works in a country that is often far too easily offended, thus making the art inaccessible for many Pakistanis.
This review was originally published in Newsline’s December 2014 issue under the headline “The Politics of the Image.”