july issue 2011
Every time I have sat down to write about an art show that I’ve found perceptive and insightful, I have realised that the artist’s blurb normally does not have the capacity to convey in totality what the imagery communicates to the viewer. This was true of the show at Koel gallery last month, comprising the work of four female miniature artists from the National College of Arts (NCA). It went beyond the mission statement of the artists and covered a wide range of topics.
Silwat Mumtaz’s work, while emerging from a pluralistic thought process, uses symbolism for the expression of ideas about gender equality, or lack thereof, in our society. Her work is loaded with a personal narrative as well as a general view of how women are viewed and perceived in our society. Her miniatures consist of crisp, bold compositions with a female as the subject, clad in shirt and jeans, with her back to the audience. Images of a necktie, floral patterned scissors and butterflies communicate the complex, multi-layered gender balance we see around us. The introspective canvases relate the tale of what is expected from women in our society; if they don’t fit the bill, life becomes very difficult for them. Asked if she considers herself a feminist, Mumtaz’s answer was an unequivocal “no.” Interestingly, progressive female artists today no longer feel the need to be pigeonholed into the feminist label.
Naireen Zia’s body of work is a very good example of modern miniature where the artist breaks the conventional style and subject matter of a miniature by introducing three dimensional forms to her work thus creating a relief-style miniature. She deals with issues of privacy in this age of ultra connectivity and openness. Her choice of imagery related not only a tale of privacy but also touched upon commercialism and the ironic confluence of freedom and shackles. The use of intense visuals of female bodies by the artist have a haunting and disturbing feel to them; they compel the viewer into rethinking and evaluating the direction in which the world is headed.
At first sight, Beenish Khalid’s miniatures remind the viewer of images from a horror movie or something derived from bad dreams. The visuals of a three-headed monster and the distorted toys of babies hooked to several tubes ostensibly providing nourishment to the bodies have a disturbing effect. Her work gives a sense of breaking free from all limitations and painting exactly what comes to mind — in a surreal manner. The work has many references to childhood: a doll, a baby, a doll’s dress and hydra-headed monsters.
The concepts and overall technical skills of all four artists were impressive. The show was a reminder that miniature art in Pakistan is a field that has seen consistent growth over the years.