May Issue 2012
Ripples of Sublimity
Veteran painter and printmaker, Meher Afroz, exhibited solo at Chawkandi Art, Karachi’s foremost art gallery, at the end of March. Her new collection titled Naqsh Bur Aab (Images on Water) is conceptually premised on the development of spiritual refinement during the progression of life and a desire for ultimate harmony with the truth in a quest for divine wisdom.
A departure from her previous work, there is no figurative reality evident in this new collection; rather, her panels are, technically, representations of the classic traditions of Islamic art, evident in the geometric patterns and non-figural ornamentation (flowers and motifs), as well as the use of calligraphy. Conceptually, the Sufi philosophy permeates the patterns and motifs. The beaten gold symbolises duniya and greed, while the use of silver leaf denotes noor and purity. Afroz uses little squares to suggest a grid which refers to a systematic order that leads to the path of ultimate truth. In Sufism, each Sufi tariqa embodies the attainment of four spiritual stations in an attempt to become closer to God. The foundation of Meher Afroz’s art of devotion is a constant existentialist reasoning and a distance from the worldly that places her on this spiritual path, on a quest for spiritual purity and harmony with the divine. Naqsh Bur Aab, she says, is her “personal search for a better understanding of the spiritual truth.”
Afroz’s work is highly textured, with layered overlapping patterns, interspersed with grids and bands of script, or just single words and phrases, through which she aims to provide a form to the intangible. The iconography of Islamic art features in the series titled ‘Gulistan Hamara’ integrating geometric patterns and delineating the use of water as a symbol of purity in the paradise gardens of Islam seen in Central Asia, Iran and Mughal India. The text reinforces a constant zikr, a celebration of the Divine, a mainstay of Sufi practice, for example, in the repetition of pertinent phrases ‘Hum uski tasbih karte hein.’ In the fusion of text and images on her canvas, the text of a poem by Persian poet Hafiz promotes a powerful message of humility, which the artist believes opens the door to a higher consciousness.
The journey of the Sufi on the search for spiritual knowledge, distanced from the superficial, is the foundation of this collection of 15 canvases superimposed with text and motifs, with pigments, silver and gold leaf, handmade paper and graphite images in a layered rendition of the truth.
This art review was originally published in the May issue of Newsline.
The writer is a former assistant editor at Newsline