May Issue 2015

By | Art | Arts & Culture | Published 5 years ago

The exhibition of Pakistan’s globally acclaimed miniaturist Waseem Ahmed, at the Chawkandi Art Gallery last month, was a visually exciting experience. He paints with great delicacy, and has evolved a singular style that melds tradition with contemporary interventions. All his previous exhibitions in Karachi have offered a fresh and unique perspective, as does his present series titled, In the name of faith.

Encouraged by the Biennale Award-winning artist, Ali Abbas, Ahmed, whose roots lie in Hyderabad Sindh, began his study of art in his youth. He went on to join the National College of Arts, Lahore and graduated with Honours in 2000. Since then he has shown his work in solo and group exhibitions in Pakistan and abroad, and participated in prestigious residencies and workshops in Taiwan, Dhaka, Bangladesh and India. He spoke with emotion of the first time he saw Michaelangelo’s statue ‘David’ in Florence, describing the experience as “ a dream come true.”

Ahmed’s first solo exhibition, titled Silver Bullet, was held at the Laurent Delaye Gallery in London in 2010. In 2013, he showed at Gowen Contemporary Art in Geneva, and later in Paris to well-deserved acclaim. Ahmed also exhibited his work at the London Art Fair and the Bhalam Museum in Berlin in 2014, where his work forms part of  the permanent collection.

Discussing his work, the 15artist explains that it “takes a critical view of social, political and cultural issues. During the course of my practice as a contemporary miniature painter, from 2000 to the present, I have experimented with a range of ideas. My inspiration comes mostly from common people around me with whom I interact on a daily basis — the shopkeepers, the milkman, electrician, plumber and Imam of the mosque near my house where I pray. While travelling by local transport I interact with fellow passengers, soliciting their views regarding current issues. I also like to do this when I travel abroad.”

Ahmed’s new work focuses on a burning theme: the uncertainty of living with the constant fear of 55suicide bombers and violence. One deeply moving artwork, rendered with pigment colour and silver leaf on archival vasli paper, references the bloodshed of the schoolchildren of Peshawar. Silhouettes of children are set against insertions of red marks, and above that is the image of a man in deep sleep, his features peacefully composed.

Each of Waseem Ahmed’s miniature artwork tells the story of an era — and with artistry.

In another painting, a blue burqa is juxtapositioned against a dark background, which is framed with the colour red. Standing motionless, the form is the target of numerous guns fashioned from a wall of silver leaf.

One discovers suggestions of text in the abstract backgrounds of sweeping brush strokes in some of the works or the hint of a white, silent town seen from a distance. In one painting, a man kneels in prayer amidst symbols of Paradise — a profusion of leaves and plants. However, when the work is closely examined, one discovers that the man is wearing a suicide jacket and dreaming of the Paradise he has been promised in the hereafter. The artist says his present work “mirrors the fears and feelings related to all that is happening around him.”

Waseem Ahmed’s work is the kind you would want to return to, again and again, to explore and to discover new facets.

This review was originally published in Newsline’s May 2015 issue under the heading “The Art of Survival”.