March Issue 2015
The Past is Another Country
Fragments of memory, objects and artifacts are among the stimuli that serve to evoke the artistic impulse. The need to recreate and revisit a time hallowed by the past leads an artist down that particular path. Memory is, however, selective, and the act of remembrance may itself transcend parameters of time and space.
For Noorjehan Bilgrami, who grew up in Hyderabad Deccan, it was the evocative fragrance of the molsri flower that opened the door to recollections of time spent in the peaceful aura of a family home. Partition put an end to that sense of belonging on one plane, while the mooring survives on an emotional level.
The exhibition Under the Molsri Tree, curated by Maha Malik at the Koel Gallery, marks a point of departure in her practice, introducing a figurative element into the familiar grid. Other elements such as the use of indigo remain, yet the work explores new dimensions in terms of both form and content.
At first glance, the content may seem explicit, with photomontage at its base. But the base is overlaid with layers of acrylic, graphite, silk cloth and paper. There is a sense of mystery here, of the artist veiling as she unveils fragments of likenesses, forming a parable as much as a scrapbook of personal history.
The family portraits in the work are bathed in a soft light, with the subjects sitting in the formal fashion characteristic of the time, hands in the lap, forthright gaze facing the camera. While a couple of the works have a single subject, others have more than one person, along with elements abstracted from different images.
The molsri flower is a recurrent motif, and the work is layered with acrylic, charcoal and fabric. The artist uses intuitive marks and brush strokes to connect the overlaid elements into an intriguing collage.
There is a sure hand at work here and stillness permeates the work as the interaction of elements creates its own balance. The fading, recurrence and resurrection of memory and its centrality to present life is very much in evidence.
Another segment of the exhibition consists of installation works, the ‘Safar’ series. These works, with their use of indigo-dyed cloth, form a bridge between Bilgrami’s previous engagement with natural indigo and the thematic concerns of the current exhibition.
The indigo fabric appears in the form of the ‘potli’ here, scrolls to be deciphered, shards of memory, open to exploration. The potlis are placed on a grid of charcoal marks, an intuitively worked surface, reminiscent of the interior landscape.
A larger piece of work, titled ‘Teh-e- Nir,’ is made up of a number of interlocking squares, using indigo dye and acrylic on paper.
A digital video installation, ‘Tasavvur-e-Nir,’ is a meditation on the alchemy of natural elements; sea, sky and indigo blending into glimpses of the artist at work.
The exhibition, as a whole, is indicative of new directions at the same time that it explores long-standing concerns in Noorjehan’s oeuvre. It heralds an artist’s coming home.
This review was originally published in Newsline’s March 2015 issue.