October Issue 2015
Art Review: Subtle Shades
A four-person show at the Koel Gallery brought together photographers and painters in the show titled, In Silence, Sound. The world at large has moved on from the debate of determining the place of photography in the art world. However, in the art circles of Pakistan, it is still a question of significance, with photographs priced considerably lower than paintings. Globally, photographic work established a firm foothold in museum collections half a century ago. In the still evolving art market of Pakistan, the question is asked often, if photography and painting can be looked at, in the same space, with eye and objectivity for the content rather than the medium. So, in some ways the show at the Koel Gallery grouping photographs and paintings together added a subtext to the local debate.
Agha Jandan, a painter of palimpsestic blackboards, was looking at allegiance, nation state and religion, and the taught versus read through his work. In the ‘Untitled’ blackboard, the largest of his paintings, one discovers a broken-down Pakistani national anthem that seems to have lost its narrative structure. It also tells us that there were 10 students who attended the class but they were all absent and present at the same time, despite the date seemingly rubbed off the blackboard. The 786 sign on the top of the blackboard is flanked on both sides by torn jhandis in yellow, pink, blue and other colours. The game of Noughts and Crosses has been played all over the faded text of the blackboard — the game goes on despite the larger questions looming over the situation.
Shaukat Ali’s monochromatic paintings titled Meditations I to IV are intricate studies of water and nature. In the upheaval and blackness of the ocean, this is an ode to the sparkling flow; carrying us whither we desire to go.
Another artist who has studied the ocean photographically in the same show is Momin Zafar. Among Zafar’s photographs taken in Sri Lanka, the triptych, ‘Andaman Sea’ in particular, reads well as an evocative study of the ocean splitting into a thousand different lines in the dead of the night. As the ocean wells up, the texture of the surface brings back memories of the noir, science fiction films. ‘Mount Lavinia’ also has a similar sense of isolation as the fierce tides wait to cross over the rocks towards a calmer shore. His photographs are bleak studies, devoid of human presence and a departure from the meditative, celebratory paintings of Shaukat Ali.
Tehmina Ahmed’s studies culminate in both coloured and black and white photographs. The silhouettes of the bathers supplement Ahmed’s studies of the diminishing temples of Nagarparkar. Devoid of any facial features, the photograph of the eroding relief of a deity is a powerful image of neglect and anonymity, since on first viewing it is hard to make out the form beyond the texture of the ancient rocks. The photograph of the bathers, though celebratory, also veils their identity.
Overall, the show succeeds in bringing artists with various mediums, yet a common sensibility, together.
This review was originally published in Newsline’s October 2015 issue.