Flight: on Transcendence, Ascension and Escape
Flight: on Transcendence, Ascension and Escape

Koel gallery’s recent group show takes heart from Khalil Gibran’s famous poem ‘On Beauty’. Similar to the poem, where Gibran seeks to dismantle narrow beliefs on the subject of beauty, the exhibition’s theme offers an engaging and insightful look into the multiple meanings of ‘flight’.

David Alesworth & Tim Southall, Magpie, Pica pica, 2021, laser cut cardboard in multiple parts, size variable

The word ‘flight’ itself offers a broad range of perspectives, from birds, to planes, to automated human responses, to flights of fancy – resulting in an array of works. Made from various materials, including glass, mirrors, metal, resin etc the exhibition celebrates multitudes. Despite the differences in their practices, the development of the show was cohesive, and like flights connected one work to the other. The concept, born from a desire to escape, speaks of the impact of the pandemic and how it has eclipsed our lives globally, “I wanted to break the shackles of negativity pervading everywhere; to let imaginations soar beyond the mundane and fly limitless. I thus invited artists to bring their own interpretations to the word flight” 1 explained gallery owner, Noorejehan Bilgrami.

Huma Mulji, Crystal Palace, 2010, mirror, MDF, adhesive, acrylic sheet, 14 x 30 x 34 inches

Flight in itself is such an unstable thing, a sort of ambition, a hope, you lift off but you can always fall. There is this idea of levitation, an effort or trying, and during this uncertain time we either flee into our nests or try and take flights out of it – all the while caught in our humanness. Capturing this state of flux is Huma Mulji’s piece Crystal Palace, a glass house model, that is positioned levitating off the ground. Made in 2010 Mulji’s piece, allows for multiple interpretations. The levitating form, speaks of ‘The Queen of Sheba and Prophet Solomon’s correspondence’2. While the form does take upon the mirrored quality of the palace from said story, there is also a distance that was covered, drawing upon the notion of flight, the idea of mobility – a journey from one point to the next. Flight is also represented in terms of ambition, taking off in different kind of way, like acquiring a home or a mehal.  Dry Intellect by Aamir Habib on the other hand, speaks of flights of fancy. Ironically, according to Habib, ‘those type of flights, never lift you up, rather they almost always bring you down’3. Using a smith chart in a lens box found on a ship, Habib represents the frivolous nature of flighty whims. Similar to his former works, a satirical quality can be seen in this particular piece as it directly contradicts the ‘upward’ nature of flights.


Aamir Habib, Dry Intellect (khush fehmi), mild steel, acrylic, LED lights, 18 x 18 x 62 inches

An interesting thing to note about the exhibition is the use of materials and the experience they bring into the space. Consisting of multiple sculptural pieces and a varied use of materials, especially mirrors, the visual intensity of works was only amplified by the softly lit space – creating an atmosphere that otherwise wouldn’t have been achievable in the sterile space of the white cube. From Rameez Abdul Rehman’s glass pillar Waves 2021 to Mulji’s, shattered Crystal Palace 2010, to Hussain Jamil’s pixelated pieces Blue Megaliths 2021 and Golden Hour 2021 – the reflections and shadows produced in the gallery added to the ephemeral nature of the theme.

Rameez Abdul Rehman, Waves, 2021, Sandblasted and color processed glass base, 84 x 20 x 19 inches

Taking on this play with light, is Mohammad Ali Ashraf’s piece Constructs of relativity 2021, that utilizes intentional light placement to create shadows on to the gallery wall as an extension of his art work – allowing the conversation to extend, in the form of fractured light. Like branches stemming from roots, Ashraf’s work reiterates the oneness of nature and humanity. Emphasising how humans are only one part of nature while nature is a permanent part of humanity. Similarly, Taha Ali’s work, I see reflection of past 2021 a monolithic concrete pillar tackles with man’s relationship with nature. This theme further expresses the conflicts in today’s civilization, brought about by the social instability. An acknowledgment of how art makes accessible this experience of both roots and loss.

Left: Taha Ali, I See, Reflection of Past, 2021, concrete, wire mesh, dry clay (Polyurethane based elastomeric coating) paint, wax layer and Styrofoam, 7 x 2 x 2 feet. Right: Mohammad Ali Ashraf, Constructs of Relativity, 2021, welded shaft rods 2.55mm, deco paint, 6 x 1.6 x 4.6 feet

The notion of distance covered can also be seen in the works of Rameez Abdul Rehman and Atif Khan as well. As you climb up a flight of stairs in the gallery you see Rehmans’s round piece Golden Waves reminiscent of ‘oceanic waves’4. Juxtaposing it are a series of round artworks ‘inspired by the reality of the impermanence of the material world’5, made by Khan. Connecting traditional Mughal imagery to present day – a similar idea of stories travelling time comes through, while demonstrating the evolvement of his practice. Within the multiple linkages found in the gallery space is David Chalmers Alesworth and Tim Southall’s collaborative piece, Magpie, pica pica, 2021. Exploring roots of identity through the prism of art and migration in an era of increasing global independence, the magpie, a migratory bird, made of fruit cartons found in Bristol, is shipped to the gallery space where it is then reassembled. This cultural exchange reflects the noticeably interrelated world we live in and how ‘global linkages meet to form collections of meaning and materiality that affect our lives: in the things we make and use, the ways we think and feel, how and why we do what we do’6.

Atif Khan, Air, archival inkjet on Hahnemuhle paper, diameter 21.5 inches. 1/9 Ed.

The momentous nature of flights can be related to the universal state of instability at hand today; applicable to every aspect of the natural world, the human condition and human experience.

‘Turning to the arts, there are states between the chaos and stability, an ‘almost but not quite’ situation that transcends fascination, and leads to beauty and deep significance’[/efn_note]Philosophy Now. “Instabilities in Nature & Art | Issue 94.” Philosophy Now, philosophynow.org/issues/94/Instabilities_in_Nature_and_Art.[/efn_note]. Consequently, in Flight, artists who hope to ingeniously encapsulate the human condition instinctively grope in the unstable ground between complete regularity and complete chaos rendering beautiful works. Proving art as a means of connection that like beauty, has the ability to transcend boundaries.

The group show ‘Flight’ was showcased at Koel Gallery, Karachi, from 25th May to 16th June 2021.



  1. Interview with Noorjehan Bilgrami via email, 2021.
  2. ‘Flight’ exhibition catalogue, Koel Gallery, May 2021
  3. Interview with Aamir Habib via phone call, 2021
  4. ‘Flight’ exhibition catalogue, Koel Gallery, May 2021
  5. Ibid.
  6. Kahn, Hilary E. and Saskia Sassen. Framing the Global: Entry Points for Research. Indiana University Press, 2014. Project MUSEmuse.jhu.edu/book/35476.

Myla Essa is a Karachi based Interior designer and a graduate of The Indus Valley School of Art & Architecture. Her work specializes in creating holistic spaces and furniture pieces that facilitate intentional living through mindful design. She also writes frequently for Libas Now magazine and is the co-founder of Vile, a platform that seeks to curate culture and heritage alongside contemporary design.

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