Chromatic Configurations: Color and character in Moeen Faruqi’s Art
Chromatic Configurations: Color and character in Moeen Faruqi’s Art

Moeen Faruqi is an artist-storyteller. His work in Continuum may be seen as the latest volume in a series of recurring tales that serve as pictorial windows into his psyche. The decidedly expressionist style and whimsical content of Faruqi’s painting is visually exciting and also has philosophical implications. Continuum may be interpreted as Faruqi’s summary of his personal journey up to this particular moment in time— an earnest moment which he has recollected in tranquility.

Faruqi paints viscerally to express the feeling of existing within one’s own skin, amidst the matrix of society. The urban setting of the Karachi metropolis is a constant backdrop to his work. His inspiration is quintessentially human-centered, and each work always depicts one or several human characters.

Paradoxically, the story Faruqi tells through his art is at once an acknowledgement of, and an escape from reality. His creativity is generated by experiencing the real world, but conversely, there is a tremendous need to escape from this reality that only allows temporary reprieve. The psychological space depicted in the artwork is contested between free will and determinism. The philosophical implication suggests that reality can be weighty, dreadful, and burdensome.  Faruqi reveals in the artist’s statement to Continuum that his characters have liberated themselves from their “… erstwhile dread. Tired of carrying the weight of reality, they have created their own vibrantly colored, free and fantastical existence.” Keeping this assertion in mind, we may interpret this body of work as a manifesto of liberation.

Estranged Family, Acrylics on Canvas, 36 x 36 Inches, 2022

Scintillating colors follow their own logic in Faruqi’s color-saturated paintings. Their intensity is arresting. Despite their vivid enticement, colors never transgress the other logic in Faruqi’s work, which is the logic of formal outline. Using outline, Faruqi populates the painted surface with people, animals and objects. We are absorbed in a world that teems with life and its paraphernalia, such as teacups, wall paintings, airplanes, ice cream cones, and buildings.

Faruqi’s characters are quirky, enigmatic even. They include friends and strangers and the occasional self-portrait. Deceptively simple in their delineation, they co-exist with each other— alongside animals and objects— in an extraordinary patchwork of color and pattern. There is a sense that raw energy is trapped in the exuberance of colour while the habits of culture, that shape primordial human beings into creatures of civilization, are defined by the bold lines. The dichotomy between dread and liberation is reflected in the duality of colour and line.

There is a variety of animals depicted in the paintings. Cats, bees, fish, crows, and chimerical half-fish. half-bird creatures abound. These animate and inanimate subjects are rarely rendered in scalar proportion to real-life sizes. One may surmise that the co-existence of animals and humans indicates a fabulous harmony. The artist is making a subjective assessment of the living condition which has escaped the boundaries of realism. We are encouraged to take him at his word that the surreal world he portrays is one of liberation from the previously felt “dread” and alienation.

Shareek e Hayat, Acrylics, Ink, Watercolor on 300g Canson, 12 x 17 Inches, 2023

Despite the quizzical arrangement of color and proportion, there is a strong sense of interiority in the paintings, suggestive of room-like spaces inhabited by the characters. The rooms exist as actual spaces in some paintings, while in others there is floating space and multiple lines of perspective. The illusion of single point perspective is discarded. The irrational power of the dream state is harnessed. Faruqi’s floating world emerges from the bedrock of subjectivity and memory.

Another aspect of interiority signals our attention towards the opaque thoughts of the characters. As onlookers, we can only guess what occupies their thoughts. The characters gaze out from the surface of the canvas and even upon each other but give very little away. They connect as if in a pattern on a patchwork quilt.

One may imagine a spider’s web dotted with trapped insects. Symbolically, the web represents the cultural system through which the characters attribute meaning or superimpose a pattern to their existence. It is helpful to recall anthropologist Clifford Geertz’ explanation of webs of significance as follows: “…man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun.” [Geertz, 1973]. The artist has spun enigmatic webs of signification in each artwork.

Karachi Kahani VI, Acrylics on Canvas, 30 x 36 Inches, 2023

Any commentary on Moeen Faruqi’s art must make mention of notable coincidences that it bears with early twentieth century movements in art and philosophy. Most obviously, there is the bold and intense use of colour that evokes the painterly work of the Fauve artists such as Matisse, Derain, and de Vlaminck. Secondly, there is the powerful notion of existential dread which was expounded on by Soren Kierkegaard in the nineteenth century and subsequently developed into existential thought on the human condition. Thirdly, the concept of time and memory as perception rather than measurement, as written about by Henri Bergson, bears directly on the notion of continuum.

Faruqi’s characterization of time, and particularly of time past, is not teleological. It does not rely on a linear historical trajectory, nor does it convey a direction or purpose to the story of life. It is experiential time formed from perception, memory and reinvention. Faruqi has arrived at a station where he knows that a significant part of life’s journey has been traversed. This is a perceptual milestone rather than a chronological one. It defines his present state of awareness which will be subject to renegotiation as the future unfolds. As such, the defining consciousness of the artist is anchored in the present moment.

The Latin term in medias res which means “in the midst of things” typically describes the method of telling a story by beginning in the middle of ongoing action. Faruqi’s art plunges us in medias res into the present moment of his life. It captures the essence of everyday reality and the way it becomes part of the thing we understand as experience. Just as a photograph captures the present moment, and by documenting it, bestows permanence to the ephemeral present, so too does art act as an antidote to impermanence. All things pass and all things remain part of the continuum.

Moeen Faruqi’s solo show ‘Continuum’ was held at Canvas Gallery from 25th April to 4th May 2023.

Title Image: Karachi Kahani V (Triptych), Acrylics on Canvas, 30 x 48 Inches, 2023

All Images: Courtesy of Canvas Gallery

Nusrat Khawaja is an independent researcher, curator, and landscaper. She writes on art and literature. She is a member of the Karachi Biennale Discursive Committee.

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