December Issue 2014

By | Art | Arts & Culture | Published 5 years ago

Step into an art gallery and you might just find a group of connoisseurs huddled in front of an artwork, contemplating the big questions: What is the meaning of life?  Will art save our souls? Why can’t I afford to buy anything here? Or like Cam in that episode of Modern Family, who sits up all night researching Kandinsky to impress his family with his knowledge, only to find out that the exhibition ended days before. You’ll find those too. Occasionally, you’ll be one of them.

Sure, art is a reflection of life and represents the environment it is born in and the artist’s own beliefs or psychological state. But it’s not as if every artist is a tortured soul, or that life is without its humour.

National College of Arts graduate and once a children’s books illustrator, Adeel uz Zafar’s Stranger Than Fiction exhibition of popular cartoon characters at Gandhara Art gallery is bound to put a smile on one’s face — at least at first. This is due to the nostalgia the figures evoke, as characters that have brought joy or laughter to us throughout the years.

Using “a selection of seminal anthropomorphic characters known around the world for their incredible feats and heroic actions,” Zafar uses mixed media techniques to explore the ways these globally loved characters are reappropriated or re-branded, familiarising viewers to their lesser known histories.

The exhibition feels like a walk through a dystopian Disneyland. Mickey Mouse is mummified and hung up on a wall; an unidentified stuffed bunny lies in a puddle of blood; and all the characters such as King Kong, Godzilla and the Simpsons are wrapped in rolls of gauze. The bandage could represent holding together childhood heroes and memories, that take a battering as we get older. On one level, it is tearing down the hero by presenting it in an absurd or violent manner. On another, it’s holding it together.

There is something unsettling in these works — the sort of feeling you get when you discover strange oddities about your childhood heroes, which forces viewers to look beyond the ‘cuteness’ and think about these characters in a broader context. For example, the Power Puff Girls, made of “sugar, spice and everything nice,” embody three female archetypes and are representative of third-wave feminism, while also “abandoning the more individualistic aspects of this brand of feminism by exploring the meaning of sisterhood and female empowerment through community.”

Asked as to how he expects viewers to approach the exhibition, Zafar says, “I would like them to view it from their own experiences and perspective. Everyone has their own story due to the global recognition of these iconic images. The younger audience always like to know why these happy, cuddly characters are being bandaged and a mature audience must wonder why there is no human figure underneath the gauze? There are so many connotations which make these works more meaningful to everyone, including myself.”

This review was originally published in Newsline’s December 2014 issue under the headline “Zap! Pow! Bang!”

The writer is a journalist and former assistant editor at Newsline.