May Issue 2013
On the Surface
Nahid Raza’s latest collection of paintings, exhibited at the Canvas art gallery, is an exploration of textures. Tiny beads and coins are mixed with acrylic paints while brushstrokes create a whirl of patterns on the canvas. The abstract paintings, many of them comprising square forms and expressionistic layers of colours, are explorations of the artist’s emotions. And the titles of some of the paintings, ‘Pages of My Diary’ and ‘A Door in My Heart’ further prove that they are reflections of Raza’s innermost thoughts.
Dark blues and shadowy greys are tempered with flashes of yellow and orange. In some paintings, Raza paints female figures, stylised with their long, solemn faces and downcast eyes. The coins create various shapes. In one painting, they form a circle, in another a star. Both canvases are painted in a thick, flat coat of yellow-gold.
In her artist’s statement Raza explains the symbolism behind her paintings. Dark colours express concerns and fears regarding the state of the country. Coins represent wealth. Rain and the bursts of lighter colours represent hope.
One of the most striking paintings from this collection is also the most abstract. Murky grey paint is spread across the large canvas, fading to a chalky white in some of the areas. In a lower corner, Raza paints a burst of neon yellow, which immediately draws the viewer’s attention. In the case of gestural paintings such as this one, the brushstrokes create a sense of rhythm, which in turn reveals the emotions or struggles of the artist. In this work, the paint gently undulates on the canvas, bleeding from dark greys to lighter shades. Unfortunately, the title of the painting (‘A Ray of Hope’) and the artist’s statement, which reveals the symbolism of dark and light colours, makes the artist’s intent too obvious to the viewer. Instead of meditating on how the pigments and beads are distributed across the surface or grasping how the white area almost creates the shape of a doorway, the viewer simply knows what the painting is supposed to mean.
In ‘Stay Out of My Life’ and ‘Shades of Memories,’ geometric shapes and rough strokes of inky paint come together to create haunting, meditative works. Paint drips and brush strokes are layered over each other and the lighter shades of blue seem luminous against the darker areas. The few paintings in which she employs female figures are more in line with her previous collections of paintings. However, the bright colours and recognisable forms in these works overpower the paintings and the textural elements become secondary.
Nahid Raza is among the most well-known women artists in Pakistan and admirers of her work will certainly note how her artistic vocabulary is expanding and evolving with time.
Zehra Nabi is a graduate student in The Writing Seminars at the Johns Hopkins University. She previously worked at Newsline and The Express Tribune.