November Issue 2015
Held at Khaas, long known for its commitment to avant-garde art, Doppelganger exuded energy and innovation. Inspired by ‘a commentary on parable and narrative in [an] artist’s work in Art in America’, artist and curator Asim Akhtar thought about organising an exhibition of figurative work around the idea of the doppelganger. The resulting group show included work by several young, upcoming artists.
For definitive purposes, according to Wikipedia, the literal meaning of the word doppelganger is ‘double-goer,’ the ‘look-alike or double of a living person, sometimes portrayed as a paranormal phenomenon, and in some traditions a harbinger of bad luck…(or) an evil twin….often used in a more general sense to describe any person who physically or behaviorally resembles another person.’
While the exhibition showcased a range of technical approaches, it also demonstrated masterful drawing skills, from Maria Khan’s large scale, whimsical charcoal and pastel drawings featuring middle-aged women in various moods of careless abandon, in which animal and insect forms grow out of her subjects’ hair, to Anas Ghauri’s clever charcoal and graphite drawings in which the viewer imagines the body and face that might inhabit the elaborately detailed clothing: the swagger of someone inhabiting too big jeans into which a pistol has been tucked, or the carefully reclined posture of a model whose upper torso has been twisted around so that the subject’s back faces the viewer; the viewer’s impression is that the model is trying to be or adopt a look that contrasts with what he actually is. If Scheherezade Junejo’s oil on canvas renderings of mirror-imaged figures left many long-admiring viewers cold, it was not because of a lack of skill: the figures in ‘Bilateral’ are beautifully painted, but they exude a slightly repellent, almost insect-like quality. Inaam Zaffar’s candy-coloured ‘The Virtual Shrink’ suggest a floating, unreal world in which the character’s glasses allow her to reflect the image she chooses to see, rather than the truth; while Nadia Batool Hussain’s female upper torsos are dark explorations of imprisonment and obliteration. Amra Khan’s diptych ‘There was Once a Boy,’ painted in jewel colours set in elaborate gilt frames, is a modern take on the traditional portrait. The identical faces, each of which hold hand mirrors, are a study of androgyny, one of them a study in desire or yearning, the other in its fruition.
Several artists used mixed media. Sana Kazi’s grainy photo transfers are painted to focus small areas, effectively evoking yearning, particularly in the large painting ‘The Kingdom of God is Within You,’ in which a man gazes into the distance beyond the canvas while the woman beside him tentatively raises a finger in a gesture reminiscent of Michaelangelo’s famous ‘Adam in the Sistine Chapel.’ In one of two over painted digital prints, Madiha Hyder cleverly inserts an image of the subject into the pupils of his eyes.
Among this group of 12 artists, the work of two was particularly impressive: Naira Mushtaq’s ‘Lake House,’ a set of two paintings, in one of which a diver jumps against a tilted horizon. The sand appears to take on a vaguely figurative form, suggesting the changing perspective of memory. And Alia Bilgrami’s miniature painting ‘Consumed,’ one of the two (both by the same artist) non-figurative works in this show, is a detailed, delicate rendering of the artist’s much-painted tulip. One of a series of paintings in which the flower is used to evoke mood and emotion, this painting emanates both tenderness and contrast.
Nomad Gallery’s Earth in my Bones was in marked contrast to the Khaas Gallery exhibition. The artist, Sara Riaz Khan, used her poem of the same name as the departure point for a series of abstract paintings executed in oil on canvas. These delicate dreamscapes are almost impressionistic in style. ‘Breathing mineral/And chalk dust/I am rubble, I am/Silt, Copper velvet/Cobalt-ochre/Strata studded, Dusted gilt,’ begins the artist’s statement. Khan feels that words give structure to her ideas, while painting releases her. She uses her canvases to build multiple layers of thin washes of oil paint, overlaid with white gesso applied in streaks, dabs or thin, fine webs, and then further overpainted with washes of oil paint. In most paintings there is no particular area of focus. In some works, contrasting colours might demarcate the horizon, suggesting sunset, sunrise or the dawn of creation. In others, a riot of different hues peeking through elaborate layering and streaks of white evoke teeming plant or mineral life against light. Bright yellow against blue-green suggest the sun on water. Some are celebrations of the permutations of a particular colour. Each lovingly rendered work exhibits a sincere and reverent expression of the moods of the earth, its place in the universe, the compounds of which it is formed. And while concern for our changing environment might not have been a conscious theme, as this artist’s approach is intuitive, it does make the viewer conscious of our interdependence on the natural world.
Both exhibitions used a variety of techniques and materials, although the return to charcoal, graphite and oil were conspicuous as in the recent past newer mediums have often taken precedence over them. In the Nomad Gallery exhibition, Khan’s explorations of the medium demonstrate its depth and versatility. If there is one thing that could have added to the latter show’s finesse, it would be the glaze that painters of the past used to finish their works, giving it a fine, transparent shine.
This article was originally published in Newsline’s October 2015 issue.