Of Art and Artists
WHERE YOUNG AND EXPERIENCED WORK TOGETHER AND SEE HOW ART BLOOMS AND ARTISTS EXCEL, MEHRAN QURESHI SUMS UP A WORKSHOP
Representation is essential to art and art exhibitions. When we talk of representation, we mean it in all its ideological, symbolical and meaningful socio-cultural and/or political implications. However interpretation of a representation can never be final because all art is subjective. Also, genuine art does not ‘educate’ or ‘inform’ us but it creates an ‘experience’. But subjective origins of art do not necessarily imply that all art is indulgence, lotus eating and just for the sake of art only. Art, in the societies and cultures, which had till recently been subjected to, or are still under, colonial experience, has to be subversive, despite all its subjectivity.
‘Quest for the finest artist of Kashmir’ provided a platform for the young and aspiring artists of Kashmir to exhibit their works along with those of the veterans of the field. A two day exhibition held at Institute of Hotel Management in Srinagar attracted a heavy rush of visitors and art admirers from various walks of life to ‘look’ at the art works which included paintings, photographs, sculpture, pottery, installation, glass painting etc. However, reviewing and critically analysing our art and the direction in which it is evolving must necessarily accompany and follow any such exhibition or event which promotes art and brings it to the social sphere. But before moving on to art, let us analyse something about the exhibition itself. The Quest for the finest artist of Kashmir was inaugurated on June 5 by one of the ministers of the state. It had a huge backing from Government sector as well as whatever considerable corporate we have in Kashmir. Nothing wrong with that from a layman’s perspective, but the spirit of art (including and obviously visual art in this case) must always defy the establishment. In a predicament as ours, art cannot afford to join hands with power. Now most of the great art of the world might not stand true on this condition. Throughout history, Power has always tried to neutralise art. But at a very subtle and psychological level, real subversive art considerably informs all resistance and dissent. But then again, in our case, civil society is not strong enough to organise such workshops or events on their own. A strong backup is needed, which in our case ironically, only government and corporate sector can provide.
The exhibition showcased a variety of art works ranging from highly technical ones like photography to the most ancient of the arts like pottery and terracotta. The artists who had displayed their works were mostly students from varied backgrounds and education. Some students from our own Institute of Music and Fine arts had also displayed their work, along with few well known names of Kashmir’s art scene. Kashmir, in all its natural beauty of mountains, orchards, lakes and flowers, offers a rich experience for any photographer to freeze some mesmerizing and intimate moments with nature. Perhaps that is why most of the photographs displayed in the exhibition were landscapes, in all the variety of light and shade they can offer.
Captivating among them were frames captured by Basit Alvi and Mir Muneeb. Muneeb’s angles were different and original, bringing out the best of what nature had to offer. Some brilliant photographs which were pregnant with emotions, had already received international acclaim. Apart from landscapes, Nadia Jeelani had attempted to capture the symbols of Kashmir in her photographs. A fisherman sipping Noon-chai was one which depicted the essence of Kashmiri street life.
Most of the paintings displayed in the exhibition were of exceptional quality, both in terms of draughtsmanship and compositions. The attention given to the detail or the choice of the colour or stroke was everything but mediocre, speaking of talent of our young and aspiring lot of artists. However there was an absence of indigenous tools and symbols in most of the works. Artists had not exploited the indigenous language of the culture to which they belong, and there was a heavy tendency of abstraction in most of the paintings. One must note that abstraction was a systematic outcome in the history of western painting. History of western painting complements the history of western intellectual tradition in general from Renaissance onwards. With the onslaught of modern industry, technology and materialism, the ‘reality’, for the western mind had become blurred and complicated, hence their painting. No doubt, our worldviews too are heavily influenced by western onslaught of values, and in our culture too, ‘things are falling apart and centre cannot hold’, but we ought to develop our own language and symbolism to define and address our own predicament.
Coming to the individual works, Sadaf Jahan’s landscapes were refreshingly simple yet beautiful in their workmanship as well as choice of colour. Some works like those of Fatimah Ali and Sana Abdullah seemed to be inspired from other well known works of the art world. Fatimah’s Parineeta had a heavy influence of modern Indian painting that emerged in Subcontinent after cubism. Sana’s simple portrayal of horses bore remarkable resemblance to Franz Marc’s Blue Horse. Zulfiqar Ali’s work depicting ‘stone pelting’, a defining feature of Kashmir’s resistance, was altered. He was made to remove a part of his painting by his superiors, either for the reasons of aesthetic sense or censorship. Aware of what had been done to his creation, he desperately tried to explain his theme every time a person approached his painting. Nadeem ul Nisar’s portraits of popular figures of dissent like Jesus, Che, Bob Marley, etc could be termed as radical within the limits set by the ‘authority/ establishment’. After all, the powerful capitalist discourse has completely weakened the symbolic significance of these icons and made them into the objects of fetish. Among the guest artists, Mohammad Shafi Chaman, Masood Hassan, Aftab Ahmed and others had also displayed their works.
However, the paintings of two young artists, Mubashir Niyaz and Syed Mujtaba Rizvi stood out from the rest of the works. Mubashir’s series covered the themes of angst and alienation. They had a strangeness of form and content, thoughts that can only be apprehended intuitively, a language pregnant with meanings, and images that are true symbols. One of his works titled ‘Haunted’ depicted a man in dilemma on the threshold of a rigid door in a wall in all its geometrical strictness. Perhaps the wall and the open door symbolise modernity and the man in dilemma depicts the crisis of a modern man. His other work, ‘Scream’ – a face crying out to the void was a good portrayal of existential angst. This painting reminded one of a famous expressionist masterpiece with a same name by Edvard Munch. When asked about whether he had any prior knowledge of Munch’s work, Mubashir replied in negative. Perhaps, artist’s work, to use Jung’s language, is bought into existence by forces which are deep in his unconscious, powered by the archetypal forces which are common to all humanity, especially artists.
Mujtaba’s works on the other hand were violently abstract. The heavy visual impact of his paintings was perhaps due to his uncanny colour scheme and use of heavy contrast. Radical in terms of compositions, Mujtaba’s art was liberating in experience, that is to say liberating the viewer from the tyranny of interpretation and consequently from the tyranny of restrictive structures and norms. Also, different from his other works, was his painting of a labourer with vibrant and dominating strokes of colours in background which could be a crude example of socialist art. Often, a work of art fails to create an experience by being overtly political or ideological.
In sculpture, Shehla Arif’s works were remarkable. Apart from still life objects of cultural value like Samavar, etc, she had wonderfully explored and portrayed different aspects of a woman’s personality in most of her works (some of her works might be considered offensive towards the sensibilities of a Kashmiri). Curiously she had found the woman of Indian tradition a more interesting subject than the woman of her own culture. Besides the series of sculptures of women, there were the sculptures of two horse heads among her work, both of which had their form slightly altered to give them a feminine appearance. Perhaps it might have been a deliberate act on part of the artist or unconsciously, the feminist tendencies of the artist might have influenced her creative effort. Even limitations of the material used cannot be ignored
Romaan’s sculpture of a hand made a strong statement. It was simple but profound . Titled ‘Alchemist’s touch’, it stood as a symbol for ancient wisdom. It was like an invitation for going back to ‘craft’, which has been dying a cruel death since Industrial Revolution and mass production. In a way it was an artist’s complement to Heidegger and Marcuse’s critique of modern technology, or perhaps more than that. Sukhjit Singh’s terracotta had strong Primitive undertones. Aasima Sajjad’s pottery was rich in variety.
On a concluding note, the exhibition was a novel and enriching experience for the people of valley, especially art lovers. Although the absence of politically subversive art was evident, the works displayed there were not totally devoid of meaning. At the same time exhibition also produced a nascent language of art in Kashmir, struggling to grow and mature. Looking forward to ‘Quest for the finest Artist of Kashmir- 2011’!
(Writer is a student of architecture at NIT Jaipur. Feedback at email@example.com)
Lastupdate on : Fri, 11 Jun 2010 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Fri, 11 Jun 2010 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sat, 12 Jun 2010 00:00:00 IST
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