October issue 2010
Painters Without Borders
The ArtChowk Gallery held a group show of five artists from India, Pakistan, Taiwan and China titled ‘Home-Page’ last month. These artists met and became close friends while studying at Central Saint Martin’s School of Art and Design, in London. They came from different countries, but living in London gave them the opportunity to become part of a global, diasporic artistic practice. They were exhibiting together to share their experiences of a borderless home, in an attempt to go beyond nationalistic concerns and the divisions of East and West.
Manali Shroff says her work revolves around the “surrealism of the everyday,” highlighting the strange uncanny encounters in our mundane lives. Having grown up in Baroda, India, she turns to the rich culture of folk tales and myths to draw connections between man and animal. In her painting titled, ‘I go east, you go west, let’s lead the rest,’ Shroff projects her own self next to a monkey, both shown climbing poles. For the artist, this connection conveys the ape mentality of man and how we are so consumed in life’s vertical race that our sole ambition is to achieve great heights. She calls her work “urban folk tales,” for she relocates the mythical animals into the realm of daily life.
Seher Naveed explores the process of collecting memories. Shifting from Karachi to London, a city forever flocked with tourists, she began observing tourists and their obsession with the camera. Rather than living in the moment, we struggle to preserve memories for the future, so much so that we are unable to fully experience the place because we only see it through the lens. Wanting to break free from this, Naveed draws from memory, constructing multiple layers. Human compulsion to preserve is conveyed in the way she taxidermies her memory in boxes of acrylic. However, she introduces the medium of tracing paper to evoke a feeling of transience.
Growing up in the town of Mangla, Naveed was witness to the destruction of 150 villages during the construction of the Mangla Dam. Thousands of lives were callously uprooted and dislocated. Naveed constructs boxes in an attempt to preserve the memory of those washed away homes. The houses are built using paper to show their vulnerable existence.
Marium Agha, also from Karachi, has on display 72 squares of embroidered cloth, titled ‘Seventy-two Virgins.’ The title mockingly refers to the supposed promise of 72 virgins who await a good Muslim in heaven. In her work, Agha engages in issues arising from a failed democratic government and the apathy of Muslims. In this exhibition, she explores the phenomenon of suicide bombing. The artist humorously explains how she had so often heard people writing off suicide bombers as sex-starved men, giving up their lives for the 72 virgins waiting in heaven. Through fabric and thread, she started creating visuals of the heavenly virgin genitalia. Her work alludes to the conflicts and clashes in perceptions that infest our society. For example, the wide gap between what Islam is, and what is taught to us.
Ivy Chan also challenges cultural and symbolic meanings, but in a vastly different way. Born in China but currently living in London, she creates her artworks using pencil shavings, which form an enchanting, almost dizzying pattern. Chan states that her work deals with the transformation of quotidian objects by showing “familiar things in unfamiliar ways.” Pencil shavings are usually considered worthless, but Chan retains their individuality and forms a pattern, alluding to issues of mass production and factory mentality in China.
Taiwan’s Jo Ying Peng explores the notion of a borderless home more directly. She explains that between departure and arrival, she is always on the way home. Home is not geographically fixed but mobile. In her mixed media series, she fixes burnt paper on a transparent base, imprinting on it words like ‘belongingness.’ As humans, we all feel the need to belong. However, travel in today’s globalised world and living between two countries, un-anchors us. Peng herself is a “transnational” artist — a term used to refer to the growing number of people who have legal and economic freedom to move across borders. Her search for belonging within transnational communities shows how the meaning of home becomes stretched over time and space.
We are used to thinking of artists in terms of their origins. This exhibition aims to impress upon us an awareness of our common nature, that transcends geographical and cultural boundaries. Whilst preserving some particularity from their homelands, the artist’s explain how living abroad allows them to see things anew, offering alternate visions. They surpass stereotypical representations of space and time, and of history and geography, by drawing up on their experiences of travel and diaspora, feelings of longing and belonging, memories of places and people and multiple cultural traditions.
Click any photo to begin the slide show: