October issue 2010

By | Art | Arts & Culture | Published 14 years ago

In the current art climate, the frequency of print exhibitions has increased and the young generation artists’ enthusiastic embrace of the discipline indicates that the genre is alive and kicking. But unlike painting, the subtleties of the media are not widely understood by the public. Consequently, sales are still uneven and general viewership indifferent. So where do we position printmaking in contemporary art practice?

A recent Poppy Seed show ‘Printoday,’ entirely a young artists’ effort, featured the work of 10 participants from different areas of Pakistan who were invited to work on a given theme: “today.” Each artist had the freedom to interpret the subject according to his own understanding and submit three works on the theme produced within the conventional techniques of printmaking. After Lahore and Islamabad, Karachi was the last leg of the show. The stated mission of the project, curated by Muhammed Atif Khan, is to support, promote, preserve and advance the art of original prints. Post-9/11, “today” has gradually taken on sinister meanings for Pakistanis who are now countering jihadist terror, social chaos and political collapse at home, and loss of credibility and the stigma of a failed state in the international arena. Presently, the whole nation is feeling the stress generated by this turmoil, and its impact on artistic expression is all the more pungent because the manifestation is so visual.

A pared female figure in Rabeya Jalil’s print ‘Clipped,’ hits out at the status of women in our society — another interpretation could be that of a young nation rendered powerless. ‘The Ideal Package,’ a collograph etching of a ticking bomb, is spot on. Currently a Fulbright scholar at Columbia University, Jalil has been working for the IVSSA Print Department after graduating from NCA. (See gallery below).

Tongue-in-cheek and caustic at the same time, Sophiya Khawaja’s ‘Ignorance and Deception’ (drypoint, chine colle), a print of a girl licking candy, appears to critique drug abuse among ill-informed youth, but it can also be interpreted as a scathing comment on the political conditions we live in. Her ‘Evil Tower’ and ‘Precious Situation’ also allude to an explosive, precarious, booby trap-like situation. The works possess linear strength, and figurative components are rendered with confidence. An NCA graduate, Khawaja also did her Masters programme under a Fulbright scholarship, from the Rhode Island School of Design, USA, and is presently a lecturer at NCA, Rawalpindi.

Mohsin Shafi, in his photo-etched prints, has made prominent use of Arabic calligraphy, and his subversion of the veil as a shroud clearly enunciates female suppression as a consequence of extremist fundamentalist ideologies. Shafi is currently enrolled in the Masters programme at NCA. ‘Tangled,’ a collograph of a marionette caught in a twirl of strings by Hassnain Awais spells disorder and seems open to several interpretations as well. An etching and aquatint series titled ‘Samandar Mauj’ by Hajra Haider depicts how the sea is encroaching on habitable land and pushing mankind further inland. Other than interpreting this as the unfolding of an ecological disaster, the ebb and flow of the tide can even be applied metaphorically to the flux in life. Hajra Haider is currently working with IVSSA’s Print Department. Another etching and aquatint series, ‘Towers of Silence,’ by Wardah Alam, comments on the trials and tribulations of isolation and insularity of the self and society at large. A product of NCA, Alam is teaching in NCA’s Post-Graduate Centre for Multimedia Arts.

Blurred, repetitive images of the human figure in drypoint, summed up as ‘Dislocation’ by Saba Raza Khan, reference her close association with an Alzheimer’s patient. Naveed Sabir and Sarah Zahid’s collographs subscribe to the real and the imagined world in content while Sadaf Farooq likens the complexities of life to the geometric twists and turns of roller coaster rides.

The artworks in ‘Printoday’ were coherent enough to be read at a number of levels, but the aesthetic presence and workmanship standards were variable. If this project aims to become an annual event, then greater emphasis on not just content but also quality of prints can strengthen the impact of this otherwise well-coordinated effort.

Click on any photo to begin the slide show: