December Issue 2015
Back to the Barracks
If Karachi’s rubble and decay leave you in despair, then consider reconstituting some of it into art. This is what some new graduates of the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture had done in a recent exhibition of Conceptual Art.
Conceptual Art is dissimilar to art forms that have dominated the Pakistani art scene such as miniature, abstract and portraiture. Rather than laying emphasis on style, colour and form which are the traditional elements of aesthetic art, Conceptual Art foregrounds the idea rather than the object which is created from it. The concept as it develops in the mind of the artist is really the art (or, as some would argue, anti-art). This strangely cerebral form of art had its inception in the even stranger and more cerebral mind of the incomparable Marcel Duchamps. By exhibiting the now iconic urinal in 1917 under the title of Fountain, Duchamps engendered the notion of Conceptual Art, an often inexplicable hybrid of idea and found object. The artist was redefined as the manufacturer of ideas rather than the manufacturer of physical artefacts. It became permissible to use everyday objects or ‘readymades’ in order to express the concept.
Near Gate 2 of Zamzama Park, a 19th century barracks made of yellow Gizri stone has undergone its own process of reconstitution into a cultural space. Under the aegis of FOMMA (Foundation for the Museum of Modern Art) Trust, the objective of this space is to “promote the intelligent appreciation of art and architecture, in the [sic] contemporary manifestations as well as in a wider historical context.” The recent exhibition of Conceptual Art was held here under the title of Origins.
Upon entering the barracks, the first impression was that of spaciousness and monumentality. The disparate items on display were congruous in their urbanity. There was also a feel of revisiting the 20th century as high-tech and video-graphic displays, that are often part of contemporary Conceptual Art exhibitions, were absent. There was considerable emphasis on the found object and its re-contextualisation.
Curated by Aniqa Imran (herself a graduate of the Indus Valley School), the artists’ brief was to use the term Origins as an exploration for individual narrative. Nine artists contributed to the show with displays using materials as diverse as metal, concrete, wood, cloth and paper. I had the opportunity to discuss their explorations with four of the nine artists.
Yasser Vayani had created a hybrid sculpture with zoomorphic connotations from rubble and metal pipes. The found object carries the weight of identity and history for him, which he enjoys transforming.
Shanzay Subzwari had enlarged and framed a dollar bill and overlapped George Washington’s portrait with Queen Elizabeth’s to suggest a link between commercialisation and exploitation.
Shaheen Jaffrani had created a convincing-looking rug inclusive of fringe from canvas. This had been left out on the street to be trampled on. Her concern with urban decay and the passage of time were reflected in this treatment.
These young artists were energised by the inspiration provided by the trends in global art which, in the particular case of Conceptual Art, was transmitted to them by a visiting professor at the school. They had a self-conscious sensitivity in explaining their work which diverges from mainstream genres of art more usually viewed in Pakistan.
One couldn’t help but notice the proximity of a mosque/madrassah adjacent to the school building. These amazing incongruities of function between the two buildings leave open the question of how the national space for multiple narratives will play out in the years to come.
This review was originally published in Newsline’s December 2015 issue.