September Issue 2009
Sammar Anwar’s debut solo at Kunj Art Gallery was more than just an interesting body of paintings by an eager young artist. It was also the first representative show of a graduate of Government College University (GCU) Faisalabad. Other than Lahore and Karachi as the acclaimed art education centres, degree courses in fine arts are being offered by universities of Sindh, Peshawar and Balochistan for several decades now. A few years ago, Multan and Bahawalpur came on the map but GCU, Faisalabad, is arts’ most recent outpost. Sammar was among the first batch of 32 students who graduated in 2008 from GCU. The availability of degree courses in fine arts in a hinterland city like Faisalabad is an indicator of the widening sphere of art and the belief in its viability as a successful career option. Worldwide (especially in the Asian milieu), contemporary art has been evolving at a dizzying pace and this has energised a new generation of artists in Pakistan. Today, a far larger number of students are availing graduate programmes here than before, but it remains to be seen how well they are absorbed into the social and economic framework of the country. The equation between work opportunities and the number of graduates every year is uneven and has become an issue that needs to be addressed.
Sammar’s paintings exhibited at Kunj compared favourably with thesis artworks of students from leading art colleges in the country. According to the artist, GCU Faisalabad’s art department and curricula conform to the NCA model and their students follow the art activities and developments of the Lahore institution closely. Adapting concepts and treatment typical to the expression of youth today, the art on show portrayed her drawing and painting skills in an assortment of experimental approaches.
Predominantly figurative, the paintings dwelt on the symbolic use of the female form as projection of the ‘self.’ This autobiographical stance connected the otherwise disparate works into a cohesive narration of Sammar’s impressions about life. By layering or dividing her surfaces into panels or segments, she articulated several concerns simultaneously. Envisioning herself as an infant, she pitted the child form against opposing images of joy and sorrow to portray the insecurity and uncertainty a person feels when surrounded by turmoil and conflict. Inverting imagery of everyday trivia like digital graphics, dice-throwing board games, picture puzzles and playing cards, Sammar has tried to build a personal vocabulary to illustrate her thoughts relating to identity concerns. Using her own image as a metaphor, she has deliberated over the destiny of young women in society whose status, aspirations and ambitions are still subject to the dictates of social and cultural norms, traditional rituals and attitudes. Two vultures pondering over the fate of a reclining figure in the distance was a chilling allegorical reference in this regard.
The prevailing political chaos and its effects on daily life are frequently singled out as painterly subjects by young artists today. Recently, a news report was in circulation that the image of the Quaid was gradually being removed from official sites by the present government in order to minimise his importance as the father of the nation. This obliteration was well-illustrated and critiqued by Sammar in her painting consisting of receding images of Mohammad Ali Jinnah. In the foreground was a seated female figure, whose hands were covering her eyes to portray a mock enactment of an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ sentiment.
Sammar Anwar has an inquiring mind and enthusiasm to express herself in exuberant colours and varied styles that have brought variety to her work but presently she is experimenting and has yet to anchor herself in a specific direction. She has the potential to delve deeply but needs to narrow down and centralise her concerns and stylistic treatments.