February Issue 2014
For The Love Of Lahore
There’s a scene in the AMC series Breaking Bad in which Jesse Pinkman and his girlfriend, Jane Margolis, discuss the works of modernist painter Georgia O’Keefe, who — in her The Last Door collection — painted a wall and black door in her home over a number of canvases. Jesse can’t understand why anyone would paint a door, of all things, over and over again. Jane responds, “But it wasn’t the same… It was the same subject, but it was different every time. The light was different, her mood was different. She saw something new every time she painted it.”
“…And that’s not psycho to you?”
“Well, then why should we do anything more than once? Should we just watch one sunset? Or live just one day? Each time is a different experience… Sometimes you get fixated on something, and you might not even get why. That door was her home and she loved it. To me, that’s about making that feeling last.”
While Nazia Ejaz’s paintings in her exhibition at Canvas Gallery are certainly more varied than those of O’Keefe, there is both a repetition and a sense of nostalgia for home in them. Ejaz, a graduate of National College of Arts (Lahore) and a Masters in Fine Arts from Slade School of Art (London), has been living in Australia since 2005. However, Pakistan — or more specifically, Lahore — is still on her mind.
If O’Keefe was fixated on a door in her home, Ejaz is preoccupied with the quintessential mode of transportation in her home-country: the three-wheeled rickshaw. Ejaz paints her rickshaws in bright blues, reds, greens and yellows; some stand stationary while others are in shambles, broken and in need of attention. Some are solitary and some are surrounded by others. There’s also one which has a smattering of red paint resembling drops of blood, on its windshield. Each rickshaw — and there are almost 35 of them in total, spread over 23 canvases — has a personality of its own and a story to tell. They embody characteristics, or the inner-worlds, of the strangers we briefly pass by on the streets. Ejaz says, “These vehicles are not very different from portraits… they are loud, noisy, crowded, polluting, festive, sad, uncomfortable, fragile, comfortingly intimidate and sometimes broken, but always cheerful.”
Other than rickshaws, Ejaz also paints the old cityscape of Lahore the way she remembers it, as opposed to what it currently looks like. While the paintings of rickshaws make observers feel like someone on the outside looking in, the cityscape series make one feel like someone inside looking out — observing Lahore from a distanced height, through the eyes of the artist. Though the paintings are not identical — as in the case of the rickshaws, each has a distinct mood and tone — the subject is the same: a bird’s eye view of Lahore. However, one doesn’t feel a sense of repetitiveness. If anything, the works draw in viewers to look more closely, searching for something familar in the concrete jungle.
This review was originally published in Newsline’s February 2014 issue.
The writer is a journalist and former assistant editor at Newsline.