Curated shows, once few and far between here, are now gaining currency with the emergence of the independent curators.
Historically, curators have been responsible for researching and developing collections within institutions, and exhibitions have been drawn from that context. Contemporary ones create and contribute to public dialogues about ideas and art strategies that address the world in all its complexities. They also create opportunities for artists. The curator’s work is derived in large part from the practice and production of visual artists, but they can also draw on intellectual and creative contributions from other disciplines in the arts and from many other areas of exploration in society.
As part of its silver jubilee celebrations VM Art Gallery had scheduled a specific number of curated exhibitions for the year 2012. Their current show, ‘The city never sleeps’ is produced by guest curator Nafisa Rizvi. Extracting the title from the lyrics, I want to wake up, in a city that never sleeps sung by Frank Sinatra for the 1977 Martin Scorsese musical New York New York, Rizvi references the frenzied blend of social and cultural activity that rouses mega cities like New York to frame new situations of tumult and disorder specific to our major metropolises. This exhibition focuses on seven artist’s individual understandings of the title, ‘The city never sleeps’, expressed through diverse media forms like photography, painting and installation.
Up-close imaging and feverish brush work articulating agony and pain in Sahar Ghanchi’s portraits is an instant reminder of the furious pitch at which violence and mayhem is quadrupling in the city and the unbearable suffering it leaves in its wake.
“Our city never sleeps, it echoes with the cries of the deceased and the overbearing grief of their families. We lay awake, silently mourning their absence,” she states. Her statement voices the storm within and without.
Another young art graduate Sara Najum also focuses on volatility but opts for an abstract modality of chaos. Her crisscrossed tangle of linear threads compressed within a spherical canvas was a valid but derivative manifestation.
Nowadays artists frequently resort to scrambled networks, pins and needles to objectify complexity and confusion. State apathy and neglect was portrayed through a contrasting narrative of webs, grids and urban ruin and an ideal world of floral bursts by Yamna Maqbool. The works deliberately painted on tiny round discs also complied with the effect of viewing scenarios through binoculars.
To personify a city’s atmosphere through its edifices Shayaan Meer chose the shrine of Abdullah Shah Ghazi. To her, “The Mazaar is like a city that refuses to sleep but the bomb blast in October 2010 had a devastating effect on its devotees and it suddenly became a symbol of insecurity and violence.” In a needlecraft and fine art fusion she eternalises the image of the tomb with ornamental gold maroori work on a circular fabric frame. And Aaiza Alam explored portraiture within a begging bowl, (kashkol), as a defining metaphor for the city.
The nocturnal and diurnal blurred into a lived reality when Hamza Ali captured the marginalised existence of the street dwellers, the destitute and the homeless to whom the city, its well-worn pavements, engulfing alleys, nooks and crannies is hearth and home. Adrift in an urban jungle, oblivious to the rhythms of time they survive on their own terms. Reminiscent of vintage tableaux and allegory photography Ali’s extra-large prints are also striking for the technical and artistic merit inherent in the quality and content of his compositions.
Trust the eye of a native to extract beauty from the dust and dirt in his surrounding environment.” I take pictures of life around me; anything can attract me any time from street life to ordinary people, faces and emotions.” says Khuda Bakhsh Abro. When confronted with crumbling vandalised walls, splattered with paint, layered with torn posters, hand bills or coarsely over painted with graffiti art his artistic instincts came into play and he began to photograph selective segments which catalysed into an entire series called, ‘Karachi walls’, some of which are displayed in this show.
Revealing themselves as bold modernist painterly exercises these ‘un-manipulated’ photo prints tease and please the eye. By soft imaging death, decay and destruction into vibrant abstractions Abro the artist triumphs over Abro the citizen. He is awake in a city that never sleeps.
‘The city never sleeps’ as a title is potent with meaning but this force was not explored to the maximum by all the artists in this show. Akin to a city under siege, Karachi seethes with issues and concerns that can translate into compelling art.
Moreover the circular disc format as an art support, prompting the act of seeing the city through binocular lens, was a novel and relatable approach but remained underutilised by the young artists.