Curator: Maha Malik Layout Design: Sara Suleman Photography: Courtesy of the Artists Cover Credit: Ayessha Quraishi, Journal Detail, 1999. Printed at Topical, Lahore. (firstname.lastname@example.org) Published: 2013 copyright ÂŠ 2013
intimacy curated by maha malik
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ayessha quraishi. lala rukh. meher afroz. mussarat mirza. naiza h. khan
anthology for a quiet mind
I At first, let me suggest a rhetorical question. How may a work, in which figurative form is excised, be at once deeply sensual? Conversely, one may ask, where then lies the realm of the sensual? Let us begin with a not uncommon contemporary condition – the erosion of communicable experience. In extreme, testimonials of depersonalized states often describe the world as a blank slate. During such episodes, discursive meaning is lost, an inner referential language and logic, at the same times as the world loses distinction – resemblance, contour, weight. And yet within this condition of figural loss, a great and frightening exertion, there sometimes emerges another plane of consciousness, an uncanny fluency, an inner sense of address. It were as though intimate speech lay at the limits of received, representational language, or in its very rupture. Critic Geeta Kapur provides an unusual corollary perspective in her discussion of the Indian artist, Nasreen Mohamedi. She speaks of abstract art in terms of ‘the absent body’. This is not the literal absence of body, but something at once obscured and inviolably present, a constitutional force in the work. And she writes: ‘…as if to say, the absent body creates its own phenomenology of space.’ 1 The current exhibition is a manner of improvisation on this phrase, including all that it theoretically underscores. Titled Intimacy, in that first sense of self-address, the show draws upon the practice of five artists who either work directly with abstraction, or who have turned away from the centrality of figural form in recent years. The 5
show spans three generations of women. And it highlights a range
urban space and modernity manifests most strikingly, for this viewer,
of work – distinctly different in oeuvre as it is in intent. Gathered in
in a series of large-format landscape paintings. Eschewing
one place though, these differences grow porous, complementary,
conventional protocols of the genre, including verisimilitude and
conversational. A constellation of meanings emerge around the
nostalgia, these works appear instead as studies of rent space. They
artists’ spatial gesture.
are marked by open brushwork, as well as by the loss of a single, cohering perspective (as around a figure). Terrestrial form is built up,
layer by layer, and simultaneously rendered solvent, disaggregate,
From a curatorial perspective, two poles of spatial rendering
in the same visual frame. One is reminded here of critic Meena
structure the exhibition. At one end, we radically revisit the genre
Alexander’s observation: ‘One cannot conceive of landscape in
of landscape. And at the other end, within formal abstraction, we
the structure of which the perceiving subject is not implicit.’2
return to the power of a contemplative art aesthetic. Lines of affiliation blur on canvas. Regions of thought begin to surface,
In view of this insight, one may see how the genre serves Khan as a
affective, metaphysical, social. One may speak of a kind of
site for spatialization of the self. Categories of public/ private
building up, an intimate terrain in the work. It were as though the
narrative grow redundant. We find in these paintings, in their
absent body allows for amplified subjectivity.
structural encourse, the fabrication of a more visceral historic consciousness. The artist employs a cosmopolitan range of
Not bound by the confines of visible, mimetic form, something more
reference towards this end. It includes medieval European
subtle, ephemeral, and poignant, is raised here as discourse. For in
landscape painting, studies of Japanese woodcuts, local folk
the gesture of opening up space, articulating it thus, the
narrative, as well as urban-historic research. Khan appears to have
mysterious nature of ‘inhabitance’ is made critical. By this I suggest
transformed her earlier, directive propositions about the body into
a dialectical concern: that of dwelling intimately in our times, and
at once wider and more circumspect realms of thought.
in privation, on this land, in solitude, in relation. Binary oppositions are excised. Inside and out grow fluid. For our selected artists, the
Mussarat Mirza is renowned for her site-specific work. In the first
category of sensual perception itself becomes a conceptual tool.
instance, she draws inspiration from the city of Sukkur, where she is based. A palette for light colors, a palette for dark colors, and a
third, where something new emerges – the spirit of an arid, ancient,
Naiza Khan. During the last five years, Naiza Khan has produced
spiritually dense land. I speak of the innate quietness in her work, as
a sustained body of work which both documents and responds to
we cross the Indus full of autumn shine. The city is a maze, a
the changing topography of Manora Island. Her engagement with
skyline of fragile brick towers, at a distance. But everywhere, in a 7
side lane, through a sudden doorway, emerging from the river,
emergence. In this rich, textural body of work Mirza uses landscape
there are dargahs, mandirs, the hazris of local buzurgs, Khwaja
personally. She draws on the intellectual context of aniconic Islam,
Khizr’s astana. Amidst such density and such ruin, I see a vision of
a particular history of abstraction, in order to suggest her subject.
worn, almost sheer sails, and the steadiness of water beneath. We begin to speak about a manner of witness. It were as though this
Lala Rukh is acknowledged for her pioneering work in the field of
is what her oil paintings acknowledged – the feeling of receiving
minimal art in the region. Her ocean-based series may be sourced
in the early 9os. Some two decades of sustained attendance, upon a single terrestrial frame, have helped facilitate her signature style:
Mirza works within the monastic discipline of limitation. She works
a spare, emotionally resonant visual language. Lala Rukh uses a
from memory, while her canvases are structured by the framing
fragile and venerable format as the basis for her seascape imagery.
principles of landscape. In seeking the essence of things,
This intensity of black, its sensual force, is expressive in the artist’s
abstraction serves her as a tool, both conceptually and visually.
hands. Over the years Lala Rukh has shifted media, from
One is reminded here that Sukkur is suffused with burial sites. It is
photographic to carbon paper, and her mark-making has grown
marked by that which renders the other side. But this as well: in a
increasingly reductive. We are privy to an exceptional kind of
city of continual urban walling in, view is everything. The word
confidence – a processual subjective erasure in the work. The artist’s
‘manzir’ takes on implications of spiritual guidance, discernment.
most recent works are rendered in graphite, black on embracing
Color, she occasions, is in the eyes of the artist. ‘We live in a world of
dust, not concrete flesh and bone, but dust.’ Her reference to eastern classical music here is critical. ‘We have Interiors and arable views of the city, all are emptied out in panels
been discussing drawing as thought process, or thinking in the
of light and dark, densely applied color, but for the implicit
language of drawing. This language is abstract, like music, and it
breath-presence of the viewing subject. ‘Figure and environment…
has its own logic.’4 Continuing the analogy, one may perceive the
the two elements in her paintings fuse together…until they may be
state of drawing, of art itself, as consonant with music in the artist’s
indistinguishable from one another.’ The paradox is striking. Such
oeuvre. In its inner disciplines, as well as in its refusal of delineated
alive figural imagination (on the literal as well as esoteric plane),
form, the work does not occlude narrative. On the contrary, a
and yet the outlook on canvas is a manner of departure, a
welling power of personal narrative may be received in Lala Rukh’s
dissolution of form. We view a practice in which the very notion
most visually obscure works. Abstraction sustains the very possibility
of depth is altered. It is as though the world of appearances were
of expression, of vocality.
revealed, surpassed – to gesture at the breadth of some other great 8
Turning to its art historic context, one of the main features that
describes this shift within the conceptual terms of a palimpsest, or a
distinguishes abstraction in the subcontinent from its Euro-American
visual manuscript in which contemporary marks give way to expose
antecedent is that the phenomenon did not replace representation
earlier, erased images in the same space. Her concerns with
here in any pure, exclusivist sense. On the contrary, from the 50s
continuum and a historically conscious register remain constant. But
onwards artists in both Pakistan and India drew on and
in her most recent works, she further plumbs the potential of
reinterpreted the discourse for their own particular relevance. We
return to the plural nature of regional aesthetics, and Lala Rukh’s work may be considered in this median trajectory. In particular,
Afroz uses the word ‘sada’ to describe this new orientation. Past the
narrative and abstraction are not mutually opposed categories for
purely visual picture plane, her textural practice alludes to sonic
her. In those light, barely visible markings on carbon, we receive
force, to a calling and reception, as it were. Geometric harmony,
entire tableaux of feeling as well as reference. And we are barely
an aspect of her earlier works, is all but effaced here. In its place
able to explain this phenomenon, on the surface of reason. The
we find a great gestural fluidity. The artist repeatedly renders the
subtlety of Lala Rukh’s gesture speaks to a kind of spatial freedom,
Quranic syllable ‘hu’, till its graphic form is no longer apparent. The
a motional grace manifest across her work, including the
two-dimensional surface transforms into rhythmic affect.
‘nightscape’ series. In her turn away from the primacy of representational logic, Afroz Meher Afroz is known both as pioneering printmaker and as painter
seems to query conventional categories of perception. The
par excellence. Her work is often considered within the parameters
acoustic and tensile fabric of her works compel viewers to receive
of subcontinental visual reference and incisive social critique. In
‘art’ with a reciprocal attendance. Bereft of figural form, one begins
terms of method, her canvases are defined by a dedicated
to receive meaning in terms of proximities, and subtle thresholds,
exploration of texture-building techniques. Her imperative, ‘to layer,
the eloquence of states of flow.
scratch, emboss acrylic pigment, until the surface coalesces with detail, to form [an independent] pictorial language.’5 This layered
Ayessha Quraishi has used abstract method across the body of her
effect suggests an aesthetic and temporally resonant environment,
work. The youngest artist in this constellation, her practice may be
upon which the artist builds her critical commentaries. Figures enter
understood in terms of a formal, contemplative art aesthetic. Her
the picture plane, specifically as a means of narrative conveyance.
works on paper are non-discursive in the first instance, and they suggest the meditative, as subject matter. The artist mediates with
In recent years however, the artist has begun to explore that
her hands directly. Moving oils on paper, she seems to render the
‘independent pictorial language’ as subject in and of itself. Afroz
very experience of objectless states. ‘You create an armature for 11
silence, a holding place for emptiness to be.’ Quraishi seems to instill in her works a rich sense of stillness, a way of being in the depths where there appears no thing, and not void, but a place of living and expressive matter, light. Her compositions use the formal apparatus of color, line, and texture, rhythmically finessed to the point paint yields its own luster. It illuminates the environment at hand. The power of such privation may be sourced in a series of small diaries, art journals covered in dull gold. The artist has maintained these journals as reference for over two decades. They carry the same gestural activity as her larger works on paper and on timber, except for their slight format. Each book opens to jeweled color and to graphite markings in the manner of a naïve art. For her current works, the artist has photographed selected pages from her
which figurative form is excised, be at once deeply sensual? Conversely, one may ask, where then lies the realm of the sensual? Without conclusion, here is a way of speaking about the body: in the language of lyrical absence. From the charge of landscape in their work to strictures of formal abstraction, the selected artists return us to critical spatial and subjective concerns within contemporary art in Pakistan. We find at stake the imperative of communicable experience. As digression, we once again begin to prize open a ‘sense’ of the feminine, or what it may mean to bear one’s own intimacy. Maha Malik . December 2012
diaries, digitally reworking them for print. These are then scaled and manually addressed with oils, as per her practice. The contemporary distinction between digital image and painting, with all its biases in tow, becomes radically blurred in the work. In how many ways may one source yield itself? The question is raised here as both creative challenge and as ethical value. Quraishi explores the relationship between singular utterance and a proliferation of meaning in this particular suit of images. And, as per her prior thematics, the exhaustive technique suggests a particular
End notes: 1. Geeta Kapur. With Frugal Means: Nasreen Mohamedi. Asia Archive, 2009. 2. Meena Alexander. The Poetic Self, Towards a Phenomenology of Romanticism. Humanities Press Inc., New Jersey: 1980. 3. Salima Hashmi. Unveiling the Visible: Lives and Works of Women Artists of Pakistan. Lahore, 2002. 4. Lala Rukh in conversation with Mariah Lookman, guest curator at Green Cardamom Gallery, London, 2011. 5. Niilofer Farrukh. Pioneering Perspectives. Ferozsons, Lahore: 1998.
kind of personal aesthetics. Emptying out, as the work of praise in art. IV Let me return to the show’s original refrain. How may a work, in 12
I work in a way that has been natural to me since I was a child. Visually, the process is similar to that of braille. Physically, I maintain contact at all times with two materials; one is the surface and the other is paint. My hands perform two roles simultaneously; the right applies paint on the surface while the left removes the applied paint. Often a rag is used for the excess. A set of hand gestures and motions, repeated in different sequences during a period of 4-12 hours at a stretch, produce markings for a visual language. From this surface of fact, between paint applied to suggest form, and then removed to hint at the formless, the aesthetic pulse of the work is detected. Through the repetitive, the meditative may be reached. This gestural motion works through vocabularies of form and the formless, till harmony is recorded in the residue of process. In a fine-tuned silence between the performer and the observer this conversation continues. An intelligence that is aware of its own nature thus comes to realize its limitations. It delivers into a space where knowledge is non-linear, and it bears no opposites. This is a place of intimacy, of alchemy, of transformation. Underneath the skin of languages opens a book, with unbound pages of light and vocabularies in transparent ink. This cannot be translated in form or formlessness, but as its residue.
journal image oil on paper 10.6 x 16.5 in . 2012
light pg. 2 oil on paper 30 x 39.3 in . 2012
light pg. 1 oil on paper 38.9 x 39.4 in . 2012
I came to the ocean series in the early 90â€™s. I would spend a lot of time by the ocean at night during this period. I was also working with photography in the darkroom. So the impact on my art was natural. The ocean series are done on photographic paper, preexposed and darkened in the photo process. It is then worked on with different drawing media and paint. In the hieroglyphic series I and II, I employed calligraphic forms for a different rendition of the ocean. As the marks morphed, they became like coded language. This harks back to the lines of my early life drawings â€“ the almost gestural marks which had developed in rendering the human figure. It seemed as if all the thousands of drawings I had done came together in the ocean series. I had in the meantime discovered carbon paper â€“ which was the blackest and most beautiful surface I had worked on yet. Because it is so pristine, so perfectly black, it demands respect. In these current drawings I have allowed the paper to dictate to me. That is, the images are embedded in the paper (and in the shadows). In a sense the whole work is about seeing. Lala Rukh in conversation with Mariah Lookman, guest curator at Green Cardamom, London, 2011.
line drawing 10 conte crayon on rag paper
river in ocean, IV mixed media on photopaper 10 x 12 in . 1992
nightscape II graphite on carbon paper 8 x 10 in . 2011
supportive drawing graphite on somerset paper 10 x 11 in . 2012
sada I acrylic on canvas 24 x 24 in . 2012
baaz gasht acrylic on canvas 30 x 60 in . 2012
under-painting oil on canvas 40 x 40 in . 2012
II oil on canvas 40 x 40 in . 2012
III oil on canvas 40 x 40 in . 2012
naiza h. khan
My practice over the last 25 years has been centered in the self, in subjective experience. I have worked with the body for many years, and my aesthetic is grounded in an intensive drawing practice. Both concerns have been instrumental in my approach to Manora Island. That is, work based on the island is also rooted in subjective experience. This is so even as it engages with collective memory, and with mapping terrain through specific points in the landscape or events in history. The evidence of a rooted space, or site, has always been the impetus and in/visible in the conception of my works. Over a period of time, and through a deeper engagement, I feel my relationship with Manoraâ€™s landscape has become itself an internal, bodybased concept. It has shed its literal association to the site and has become something more emotive and conceptual. I think this deeper engagement began with a sense of wandering, of walking freely in a larger geographical space, beyond my own ghettoized residential enclave. I realized what I was trying to access was a wider experiential contact and imprint in my work. I was drawn to the possibility of anchoring myself in a more detailed temporality.
journal image three snowglobes watercolor and graphite on paper 5.2 x 8.2 . 2012
snowglobe under construction oil on canvas 40 x 28 in . 2012
kurrachee past, present, future (work in progress) oil on canvas. 78 x 106 in . 2013
Ayessha is a self-taught artist. She currently resides in Karachi.
Lala Rukh has taught at the Department of Fine Arts, Punjab University, from 1978 – 1982. She has been part of the Fine Art Faculty at National College of Arts, Lahore, from 1982 – 2008. She currently resides in Lahore.
Letters From an Underground Vein
Winter Academy, Fayoum, Egypt.
Read, Koel Gallery, Karachi.
International Painting Symposium,
Indus Gallery, Karachi.
The Art Gallery, Islamabad.
Association Saint-Henri, France.
1995 NCA Gallery, Lahore. 1995
Gallery Ardeco Avignon, France.
Group Exhibitions 2012
Abstract Art in Contemporary
Universal Sapience, Freiburg,
Galleria Pall Mall, London,
Biennial Izmir, Turkey.
Takhti Project, Toronto.
Takhti Project, Sadequain Gallery,
Alliance Françoise, Karachi.
Group Exhibitions (contd.)
1976. University of Chicago (MFA),
GREYNOISE Launch show, Alhamra
Arts Council, Lahore.
1970. Punjab University (MFA),
Artists’ Voices. Body. Amin Gulgee
Artists’ Voices. Calligraphy. Amin
Gulgee Gallery, Karachi.
Drawings 2010, Koel Gallery,
Art from Pakistan, House of
Karachi. In collaboration
with GREY NOISE.
Let Peace Prevail: Exhibition of
Exhibitions of Works: 1989 – 2004,
Women Artists, V M Gallery,
Zahoor-al-Akhlaq Gallery, National
College of Art, Lahore.
Vasl International Artists’ Workshop
Exhibitions of Works: 1989 – 2004, V
Exhibition, Gulgee Museum,
M Art Gallery, ZVMG Rangoonwala
PAKISTAN: Another Vision, Brunei
Gallery, SOAS, London.
Scope VII, Gallery NCA, Lahore.
Group Exhibitions 2011
Scripted Across the Indian Ocean.
Green Cardamom, London.
Artissima 18. Grey Noise Gallery.
Non- Aligned, Barefoot Gallery,
Imag(in)ing Cities, Amin Gulgee
India Art Summit, New Delhi.
New Art from Pakistan, Thomas
Erben Gallery, New York.
Let’s Talk, GREYNOISE in
collaboration with The JamJar,
Meher teaches at Indus Valley School of Art and Design, Karachi, 1990 to date. She currently resides in Karachi.
Mussarat has taught at the Fine Arts Department, Sindh University, at Jamshoro, 1972 – 1992. She is currently based in Sukkur.
Group Exhibitions (contd.)
Group Exhibitions (Pakistan 1967-2011)
Honors in Fine Arts, Government
Multiple Edition - One,
Honors in Fine Arts, Punjab University.
Mussarat Mirza has held more than two
College of Arts and Crafts,
printmaking show by
Selected International Exhibitions
Islamabad. She has also participated in many group shows within Pakistan.
dozen shows across Karachi, Lahore, and
Chawkandi Gallery, Karachi.
Confluence: a show of six women
Naqsh bar aab(image on water),
painters from India and Pakistan,
International Islamic Biennial,
Her last solo exhibition, Hain Muntazir, was
Chawkandi Art Gallery, Karachi.
Kalakriti Art Gallery, Hyderabad,
Museum of Contemporary
held at Chawkandi Art Gallery, Karachi, in
Message Informal, Nomad
Group exhibition, Renaissance
Sharjah International Arts Bienniel,
Pindaar, Chawkandi Gallery,
Artist Voices - Body, Amin Guljee
Replacing Realities Series,
Nomad Gallery, Islamabad.
Artist Voices - Calligraphy, Amin
Zindan Series, Chawkandi
Guljee Gallery, Karachi.
12th Asian Art Biennale, Dhaka.
Fragile Series, Bretton Hall
Footprints: Women in Printmaking
Gallery, University of Leeds, UK.
at Gallery Chemould, Mumbai.
Colors of Life, Cymroza Gallery,
Mein, Koel Art Gallery, Karachi.
Inspiration from the Indus,
Who’s Afraid of Theory? A critics-
artists’ collaborative, Poppyseed
Laal Exhibition, Art Gallery,
Framing the Local Context,
Baghdad Third International
Poppyseed Art Gallery, Karachi.
Festival of Plastic Arts, Iraq.
Unseen Visions: Contemporary
Pakistan - Another Vision, Brunei
Painting in Pakistan at East-West
Center Gallery, Honolulu, Hawaii.
Winds of Change:
A Retrospective of Contemporary
Pakistani Art, Gallery Pratidev,
Muslim Fest: Living Arts Center,
Asian Invitation, Seol.
naiza h. khan Naiza has been part of the Fine Art Faculty at the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture, Karachi, from 1991 - 2008. Based in Karachi, she currently lectures at the Visual Studies Department at Karachi University.
Group Exhibitions (contd.)
BFA Somerville College, University
Cairo Biennale, Cairo.
of Oxford, Ruskin School of
Between Kismet and Karma Leeds
Drawing and Fine Art.
Art Gallery, Leeds.
Foundation Course, Wimbledon
Hanging Fire, Asia Society Gallery
School of Art, UK.
and Museum, New York.
Contemporary Art from Pakistan,
Thomas Erben Gallery, New York.
Forthcoming: Karachi Elegies,
Moving On, inaugural show,
Broad Museum, Michigan.
National Art Gallery, Islamabad.
Restore the Boundaries - The
Arte Fiera di Bologna, Bologna.
Manora Project, Rossi & Rossi,
Desperately Seeking Paradise, Art
The Skin She Wears, Rossi & Rossi,
2007 Figurative Pakistan, Aicon Gallery,
Iron Clouds I, Rohtas II, Lahore.
Heavenly Ornaments, Canvas
Layers of Time and Space, Ifa
bare the fact, bear the fact,
Beyond Borders â€“ Art of Pakistan,
Chemould Gallery, Mumbai.
National Gallery of Modern Art,
Exhale, Canvas Gallery, Karachi.
Voices Merge, Chawkandi Art,
Living Masters - Young Voices,
Alhamra Gallery, Lahore.
Threads, Dreams and Desires:
ArtSouthAsia, Harris Museum,
9th Shanghai Biennale:
The Eye Still Seeks, Ivan Doughty
XV Donna Biennial: Art Decoding
Gallery, UNSW, Sydney.
Violence, PAC Museum, Ferrara,
Another Vision: Fifty years of
painting and sculpture in Pakistan,
Amelia Johnson Gallery,
Brunei Gallery, London.
Manifesta 8, Chamber of Public
Secrets, Murcia, Spain.
In gratitude Ayessha Quraishi, Lala Rukh, Meher Afroz, Mussarat Mirza, Naiza H. Khan Noorjehan Bilgrami Layout Design: Sara Suleman Photography: Courtesy of the Artists Printing: Topical, Lahore Capri Foundation
This publication has been made possible by generous support from:
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Exhibition Catalog designed by Sara Suleman