October Issue 2008
On the Paper Trail
Once a most unlikely medium for sculpture, paper — whether recycled, industrially manufactured, or handmade — today invites study and experimentation, making it an ideal tool for artistic expression, and the show ‘Simply Paper’ at the IVS Gallery demonstrates this well. Primarily a paper sculpture exhibition, this collection explores the nature of a material often taken for granted but for which there is virtually no limit to what it can do and how it can be fashioned. Seventeen contemporary artists, most of them sculptors by profession, illustrate innovative and exciting uses of paper from utilitarian objects to fine-art sculpture.
Although all the artists incorporate paper into their artwork, they employ a wide range of techniques and styles, including mixed-media assemblages, three-dimensional collage and papier-mÃ¢chÃ© techniques. They also take advantage of the contradictory nature of paper, which can be transient and enduring, delicate and strong, smooth and highly textured, can act as a filter or a barrier, and can be transformed from the flat to the voluminous. As contemporary artists, their thoughts and ideas voice current concerns, largely revolving around identity under threat politically or jeopardised through abuse of social norms and the deteriorating world situation.
For Roohi Ahmed, the political dispensation as a determinant of the public and the personal has been a constant in her oeuvre. Defining polarities, her ‘New World Order’ Rubik’s cube cartons and conical world maps sculpture/installation delineated how nations are being segregated. The boxed contents personify those who are at the receiving end of this political rearrangement.
The critical punch emanating from Ruby Chisti’s ‘Souvenir,’ a box bearing a ‘United States Postal Service’ mark and containing a miniscule pair of crutches on a bed of blood-red matting, was strong. Soft sculpture artist Ruby Chisti had reasoned that a support, no matter how attractively presented, sometimes becomes the cause of permanent disability. Her paper-crafted miniature crutches, embellished with gold and metallic silver buttresses, she cautioned, “need to be judged critically” before they are accepted as supports.
In a lighter vein, Abdul Jabbar Gull’s ‘Referendum’ invited the viewer to pen his/her thoughts on paper and then throw the paper in the dustbin — an apt portrayal of the value of public opinion here — but does the work qualify as serious sculpture?
Disposable tissue paper crafted into a telephone with multiple receivers enabled Sadia Jamal to address the ‘disconnect’ issue in human conduct. Her piece titled ‘Warning — I may not be listening to you’ tried to emphasise that ‘hearing’ may not necessarily mean that the person is ‘listening.’
Composed of kite and rice papers, Farah Jamaluddin’s ‘Cocoon I and II’ dwelt on personal isolation and retreat, as in a cocoon, vis-a-vis the ability to open up and engage with life. Her choice of rice paper connects with this perception of release and evolution. Trying to project the toughness of paper rather than its fragility, she remarks that rice paper, like human skin, has the ability to stretch and expand, and gives the feeling of skin — soft, yet protective. Hers was a deeply thought, intricately worked piece where special attention was given to the concept and choice of paper, in keeping with the sculptural aspect of the exercise. Vastly different in thought and approach, the indulgent ‘Pumpkits,’ by Sohail Abdullah also played on the appeal of form, shape and colour.
Another work, equating physical properties of paper with conceptual concerns, was ‘Web-Sighting’ by Fahim Rao. His premise was that paper is an inherently delicate fiber that gains resilience when woven into a mesh, much like the fragile network of fibres when knitted to form a strong spider’s web.
Identity, collective and individual, was well depicted simultaneously in Fraz Mateen’s portraits carved out of well-endowed telephone directories. Literally hewed like wood, the portraits chiseled and cut out of the voluminous directories couldn’t have been more private and public at the same time.
Urban madness, mass media proliferation and in-your-face propaganda, an ongoing concern in Munawar Ali’s work, is well suited for projection through the paper medium. Reworking and subverting the text and pictorial matter on the covers of popular fashion and political magazines, he articulated a critical commentary on current socio-political issues.
Paper currency notes folded and reconstituted as intricate geometric designs enabled Abdullah Syed to create ‘commodity sculpture.’ Diffusing the fine line between high art and low craft, he purported that his “folded US dollar planes, in Islamic geometric patterns, suggest the commercialisation of art, and culturalisation of economy.” Likewise the hexagonal folds of the Pakistani rupee notes created an attractive angular design that mimics the Sindhi patterning in spirit.
Moving beyond one’s immediate culture to comment on the global situation, Ben Washington’s ‘Nuclear Fusion is Coming’ describes a barely tenable world. His sculpture piece, ‘A small hill with shaky legs balancing on an even shakier looking set of legs’ was a ramshackle table contraption pieced together with cardboard, sand paper and coloured card, whose precarious condition predicted a shaky future. The artist, himself dismayed and uncertain, conjectures that “Maybe it [his sculpture] is somehow asking questions about progress, landscape, the environment and the interplaying facets that support, maintain and move these various elements forward into the future.”
As a curator, Roohi Ahmed has been able to motivate artists and sculptors to think beyond their established styles and mediums to entertain new ideas and expressive means. Most participants have risen to the challenge and delivered intriguing interpretations of their concepts. This bodes well not just for the genre of sculpture but the creative act as well. Artistic ingenuity and emphasis on interpretation of concept were prominent features of this novel exhibition. ‘Simply Paper’ suggests flexible definitions of a work of art that accommodate the variety of creative practices that now constitute contemporary art.