November issue 2002

By | Art | Arts & Culture | Published 22 years ago

As the 21st century artist struggles to create new myths in the polarised global village, the conflicts, both social and political, have led to a strange dialogue with the past by investing new meaning into forms appropriated from history and popular culture. Modernism’s thrust to recreate the image through philosophic formulae lies by the wayside, replaced by a new art frontier: technology. This includes both low and high technology, depending which class of progress your country belongs to, first or third.

With the use of the popular image from MTV to VTV to Tate Modern, the new temple of contemporary art includes the blatant rituals of consumerism. Craft skills and patterns have long been an integral part of the ornamental in South Asian art. The intervention by urbanisation and industrialisation has altered the image with the introduction of new materials and stylistic exposure, the most enduring being Victorian aesthetics, and the most recent the iconography of computer graphics.

David C Alesworth’s exhibition at Canvas Gallery is a solo show after many years. His early iron and wood sculptures at Ziggurat almost a decade ago saw him emerge on the art scene. From the formalism of that work to the ‘popularism’ of his present collection chronicles his art journey in new directions.

At the exhibition the two dominant forms are the teddy bear and the missile. Cast and constructed from the prototype, they have been faithfully crafted by skilled metal workers. Since their names, unlike in his earlier work, are not mentioned, it is probably not meant to be a collaborative artwork.

The teddy bear is a popular English stuffed toy deeply embedded in the culture of the island. It inhabits popular children’s tales, and antique teddy bears fetch high prices at auctions. To see teddy bears sold by street vendors in the bazaars of Karachi must have left David Alesworth, an Englishman, with a feeling of déjà vu. Translated into metal with brass polka dots he turns it into an artistic motif.

There is yet another history embedded in this icon which is not of cultural transference but of the hunt for cheap labour through which the original pattern of this stuffed toy must have reached our shores and other Asian countries who may not even had a historical link with the UK. Like many other commodities, the surplus or damaged order is fed into the market and those who have acquired skills continue to produce them till the domestic demand is exhausted.

Fear and empowerment are the two emotions that inform our reality as a nuclear power. The propaganda high priests of the last government had turned the missile form into a national trophy to be triumphantly displayed as monuments. As it caught the imagination of popular painters, the form began to appear on trucks, water tankers and walls. Monumental or small in scale, it gate-crashed into the emotional and physical space of the Pakistani nation. David Alesworth’s probe series, strategically displayed in the lawn of the gallery and indoor, echo this reality. To highlight it, he has photographed these probes in the seemingly tranquil world of fruit sellers and murghi wallahs etc.

The writer is an art critic and curator. Her work covers art criticism, art history, curatorial projects, art education and art activism. She has been regularly contributing to national and international journals since 80’s.