Bugs Bunny for President! Decoding The Comedy of Errors
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Bugs Bunny for President! Decoding The Comedy of Errors

‘‘The creative art is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative art.’’1

In ‘The Creative Act’2, Marcel Duchamp understands the creation and existence of art through two imperative parts: the artist and the spectator.  The artist is referred to as the medium, as one who creates in the plane of sub-consciousness and introspection, and therefore cannot be held accountable for why or what they are doing. Therefore, it is the spectator that then decides, through their own deciphering, whether the art should be deemed as one of value and posterity, and hence, gives the product that definitive status.

How important then is the role of the spectator?

This question immediately pops into my head as I enter Noman Siddiqui’s first solo exhibition, titled The Comedy of Errors, curated by Adeel uz Zafar and showcased at Sanat Initiative. Greeted by familiar characters from my childhood, though much larger than what was once seen through the television screen, I am confused to find them all in one place. Originally from different productions, time periods and storylines, the Smurfs, Bugs Bunny and Donkey (from Shrek) are spread out across the vast gallery space each one occupied with their own individual task.

Aap Ne Ghabrana Nahi Hai, fiber glass, industrial paint, 43 x 30 x 30 inches (crows 8 x 14 x 14 inches) 2021

As a spectator, I have two tools by which to unearth the layers of each sculptural work: Siddiqui’s visual interpretation of the pop icons and my prior knowledge of each. Bugs Bunny lazes across AstroTurf holding what appears to be a bottle of alcohol that is incognito; while the liquid it holds has no colour, the label informs the viewer that it was created at ‘Honey Brewery’, therefore indicating that Bugs is doing, or drinking, nothing wrong. However, knowing that the rabbit is infamous for his sly tactics, one can’t help but notice the deception behind his seemingly innocuous demeanor.

Pure Honey, fiber glass and industrial paint, 57 x 48 x 25 inches, 2021

Similarly, two Smurfs, of varying heights and colour are also present in the gallery. Titled Twice a Day Everyday, one adorns a traditional Pakistani waistcoat while presenting a tub of manjan to the viewer, while the other, titled Aap Ne Ghabrana Nahi Hai, is elevated above a podium; striking a powerful pose as if in mid-speech to his audience: a cluster of a specific breed of crows native to South Asia.

By sneaking in references of contemporary Pakistani culture, Siddiqui adapts these characters to serve a new purpose; one of socio-political critique. These works, therefore, become representations of the underlying corruption hiding behind seemingly friendly facades. Even through their traditional attire and props, one can draw on personal experiences to create multiple connections. Looking deeper, the iconic cap that the Smurf character is known for— commonly known as the liberty cap— is a historical symbol for freedom used during the American and French revolution, and furthering the innocent disguises these characters are meant to showcase.

The artist exercises certain creative liberties throughout the exhibition, one of which is the collocation of stylized cartoon characters with real representational objects; particularly in the case of Bugs and his glass bottle, and Smurf and his manjan. While one can not deny the efficacy and connotation these objects bring, a question still arises about the visuals placed before us. With the artworks all celebrating an animated and almost kitsch aesthetic, the realism of the added-on accessories perhaps takes away from the imaginative worlds each cartoon character leads us to, by binding us to this reality.

Yaaron Ki Baraat, fiber glass, industrial paint, 57 x 45 x 24 inches, 2021

Alongside these icons, brightly coloured balloons are being inflated by a team of Donkeys3 and larger-than-life donuts cover the walls. Again, Siddiqui employs seemingly joyous imagery to speak of a darker truth. Labelled Afghan Jalebi, the donuts make one think of the juxtaposition of culture happening in today’s world, brought on largely, as a consequence of colonization and globalization. However, in the process, many developing countries, including our own, are subject to the plans of our developed Western counterparts. On the surface, much like the donut, life appears sweet, but the global control held by a few are like the hidden strings of an evil and greedy puppeteer.

Yaaron Ki Baraat is perhaps the most striking collection of sculptures within the whole exhibition. Unlike the other works that are oozing with colour, the artist here plays with the contrasts that appear much more powerful. Drawing on from his previous creations, Siddiqui creates a group of black Donkeys each blowing a different coloured balloon. The eccentricity of imagery coupled with striking contrasts, achieved through the black of the Donkeys and the vibrantly colored balloons, makes this piece captivating. As the artist explains, this work refers to the unnecessary extravagance of local politicians in the face of a greatly challenged and financially deprived country.

While the artist brings forth strong ideas and accompanies it with vivid imagery that one can’t look away from, a question still remains about how the spectator may understand the collection of these works in one exhibition. Individually each work speaks, but placed together their voices become too loud for the viewer to focus. As a result, the spectator is left muddled at discovering a holistic understanding of the exhibition. As an artist it is then important to not only look at works individually, but at how each responds to the other, and therefore, whether they complement each other in a confined space. It is important to note that Siddiqui as a sculptor shows a strong mastery of technical skill, unmatched by many. His attention to the minutiae, of each artwork, is commendable and the juxtaposition of real-world narratives with fantastical imagery has become characteristic of his role as a creator.

The Comedy of Errors was displayed at Sanat Initiative from 7th. September 2021 till 18th September 2021

Title image: Afghan Jalebi, fiber glass, industrial paint, 38 x 38 x 11 inches, 2021

Endnotes

  1. Duchamp, Marcel, The Creative Act, The essential Writings of Marcel Duchamp, 1975. Thames and Hudson Ltd, London
  2. ibid
  3. Donkey is the name of a character from 2001 DreamWorks franchise, Shrek.

Jovita Alvares is an artist and art writer from Karachi. She graduated with the title of Valedictorian (Class of 2016) from the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture with a BFA. She frequently writes for local publications. Recipient of the Imran Mir Art Prize2017 and Resident Artist of the 4th Sanat Residency 2017 she regularly participates in group shows and artist talks.

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