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Whitewashed in September.

Byline: Rumana Husain

Among the several definitions of 'Whitewash' the closest to what I had in my mind after seeing the show by the same title is: 'to make something undesirable, damaging seem legitimate or acceptable, usually by falsification or concealment,' - in other words, to hide or cover up.

The show 'Whitewash' was doing quite the contrary, as it was (only partially) 'covering up' the pristine walls of the Gandhara-art Space in Karachi. But it is interesting to note that the title of the show will emerge as relevant only after the walls (and gallery floor) have been repaired and whitewashed; hiding the art works.

This out-of-the-ordinary show, on for almost four months in the summer, was curated by young Sivim Aroosh Naqvi, an artist, who works as Assistant Curator at Gandhara-art. She is also one of the five participants of 'Whitewash', together with Sumaira Tazeen, Abdullah Syed, Atif Khan and Reem Khurshid.

Naqvi relives her childhood, by using graphite on the walls as she traces patterns of the shadows made by the sun and artificial light through the course of the day. The artist must have enjoyed making these line drawings with abandon, but these architectural interventions of the gallery space are so subtle that they remain unnoticed in the presence of other works.

Sumaira Tazeen, a seasoned miniaturist, worked in collaboration with Abdullah Syed on Centre/Margin. Above Tazeen's painting of flowers derived from traditional Moghul miniature works, is Syed's minimalistic text "Yahan art karna manaa hay" (alluding to Gemma Sharpe's words 'no arting allowed' - or the more literal 'It is forbidden to 'do' art here'). These words are written with ink and watercolors on the large negative space above the row of flowers. Tazeen has painted, rather planted, the row of red, orange and lilac blossoms right at the bottom of the wall along the top of the skirting of the floor, which she uses like a hashia on vasli.

This is a light-hearted take on issues of censorship when the right of expression is taken away from the citizens by the state, (but quite often private institutions also bar their employees from speaking their minds). Syed's statement, rather a decree, written in tiny letters, emphasizes the fringe space all around, which provides opportunities of speech and writing when all eyes are otherwise focused on centre-stage such as on Tazeen's 'safe' blossoms do not provoke any controversies. Centre/Margin offers several layers concealed within the obvious.

Abdullah Syed's Blooming 'wall is located adjacent to Centre / Margin, where despite the title, no flowers are in bloom. It is a formal installation where grids are followed, and repetitious circular patterns in acrylic, graphite, ink stamping and gold leaf are worked upon linearly. These blue, red and yellow 'targets' occasionally move up and down the horizontal bands. What makes the work extremely interesting, at a theoretical level, are the drawings that continue to make a mark on the wall sans colors. This has been achieved through stamping these subtle 'targets', reminding the viewer that it is not only the marked or listed individuals who are a target, but also everyone and everything else. Seemingly, a straightforward pattern, it bears a tacit message that can give the viewer moments of anxiety.

On the upper floor of the gallery, Abdullah Syed's performance and sound-based installation called 'They see neither their heads, nor the stones, nor even the walls!' took place over three days. A punctured wall, like an open wound, and a floor littered with the debris are what remains for the visitor along with small photographs of the artist in action.

From the Biblical exposition: 'a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain,' to Quranic references of pelting stones on the jamarat (satan) during Haj, to 'casting the first stone', to seeing televised reports of Kashmiri and Palestinian youths throwing stones at their oppressors, the Pakistani artist and viewer are no stranger to this act which is associated with negativity, defiance and protest.

Atif Khan's Submerge into Rose Essence, The Veil of Mystery and A Book Reopened continue to explore the imagery of the ant and the rose, that were also seen in his earlier prints titled 'Anthropology'. These had millions of stamps of ants, moths and flies, as also the intertwining of roses infested with ants. The artist's use of ants symbolizes how humans have always perceived insects as small and insignificant yet at another level they accept that the same creatures are good seekers, and reach the domains of human heart and mind.

Reem Khurshid's contribution is challenging. With a child-like charm her installations speak of creative talent and skills as well as her mature insight into the socio-political conditions of the country and the world at large. Khurshid's questioning of the official versions of history handed to us, (Chroma - Freedom from White) points at the tabula rasa theory of Ibn-e-Sina, who purported that the human mind is but a blank slate at birth, and is educated and nurtured by the environment. In one of her works the tree of olive-green/black gnomic faces, with blood-stained and sinister-looking life-less eyes, seem to speak on the dilemma of a preferred/imposed single identity.

The decorative yet poignant and haunting work raises questions on how "we (can) continue to germinate from the same roots, as both our oppressors and our oppressed" (as tabulated in the 'Whitewash' catalogue under Chroma... by the artist). Khurshid uses acrylic paints - including florescent pigments on paper, board and twigs. It is the sharp flick of her blade that creates interesting cutouts.

Come September, these works will disappear behind a coat of whitewash!
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Publication:Nukta Art
Date:Dec 31, 2011
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