How Do We Make You Listen?
How Do We Make You Listen?

Many, all over the world, were thrown into a frenzy as a result of a recent protest at the Louvre. Dressed as an elderly woman in a wheelchair, a young man managed to sneak up to the Mona Lisa and smear cake against the glass protection before being dragged away screaming,

“Think about the Earth. There are people who are destroying the Earth. Think about it … all artists, think about the Earth — this is why I did this. Think about the planet.”

While many people condemned the act as being disrespectful, it did beg to bring to attention the question of whether this protestor’s message could have reached the heights of publicity it did, had it not been for the notability of the chosen venue or painting.  What’s more, it invites an interesting debate; did this outlandish performance work well to highlight the issue it was meant to— a call-to-action to save our planet— or did it divert the conversation altogether towards a deep concern for a non-living commodity that bears an ambiguous portrait from the sixteenth century?

Shahid Malik, The Hour Glass, gouache on wasli, 7in x 9 in, 2021

Whatever the case, this act was not meant as a solution, but rather as a siren, ringing loud and painful in the hopes of alerting its audience to a very harsh reality. Similarly, the works displayed at the Canvas Gallery attempted to open a window into the impending destruction awaiting our earth. Titled Before the End of Time the group exhibition, curated by Quddus Mirza, displayed an array of contemporary pieces.

Anthropocene refers to the significant impact human activity has had on the planet in recent years, which includes shifted landscapes, increased temperatures, and insurmountable waste. In his paintings, Shahid Malik captures these frightening times. As a result of the increased amount of human intervention within the natural world, we have morphed the natural landscape into one piled with manmade garbage, much of which is non-degradable and hazardous. Instead of just concrete buildings, man has also erected towers of waste which have now become synonymous with their world.

The Pak Khawateen Club, ‘Tarbela Dam Spillways and Turbine, The Dam Inundated Entire Village of Amb Princely States’ Expedition 1 - Dams (Set of 7), laser print on paper, edition of 5 + 1AP, size variable,2020

Expeditions 1- Dams is a series of digital prints that highlight the journey of the Pak Khawateen Painting Club through places of hydrological power. What  appears as seemingly simple documentation of spaces, is in-fact layered with allegorical narratives underlining struggles of power, gender, and modernity. The Pak Khawateen Painting Club1, composed of a small group of contemporary female artists, investigate ideas of power struggles and displacement through the histories surrounding the country’s hydrological engineering. In this particular series of works, we see these women trudge along, through places that are predominantly male-oriented and as a result there is a visual distinction between the male workers and these women. Alongside, and perhaps more pertinent to the crux of this exhibition, is how these works also highlight areas of indigenous and natural land that have been wiped away; to be replaced with such large commercial projects. More so, one realizes that although these lands once belonged to the natives, the distanced rich are the ones that will likely reap large majority of rewards through power structures and plutocracy.

Hooria Khan, Corrosive, gouache and fungus on handmade paper, 11 in x 16 in, 2022

While several illustrate the harmful and rippling effects of mankind through various mediums, it is Hooria Khan and Haider Ali Naqvi who depict their visual narrative through experimental materiality. In the case of Khan, the artist uses handmade paper to paint; and the treatment of the paper is what makes the work powerful. Alongside the rough, unrefined texture of each sheet, the artist also treats each one with a layer of fungi, which causes further wear-and-tear and discoloration. Juxtaposed with delicate miniature paintings, the artist creates an intriguing dynamic that aptly symbolizes the decay and destruction of the world at the hands of humans.

Similarly, Naqvi displays sheets of paper that have been aged and abraded, both by man and nature. The discoloration and damage serve as drawings which are preserved and displayed in a single still image; visual metaphors of  experiences and journeys through a world pulverized by men and desire.

Hamid Ali Hanbhi, Dil Darya 1, oil on canvas, 36in x 54in, 2022
Hamid Ali Hanbhi, Dil Darya 2, oil on canvas, 36in x 54in, 2022
Hamid Ali Hanbhi, Dil Darya 3, oil on canvas, 30in x 35in, 2022

Also capturing the essence of time, are the works of Hamid Ali Hanbhi and Aneel Waghela. Both, through their choices of medium, capture the dwindling states of Pakistan’s natural bodies of water as a result of human negligence. While Waghela does this through the juxtaposition of two images, Hanbhi highlights the eventual loss of water through a triptych painting. In conjunction, Aamir Habib’s artwork can also be seen as portraying a world with reduced water. He does well to create the illusion of heat, and the sculpture is quite illustrative of depicting a world on fire. Through all the works, one can almost feel a dryness emanating, a thirst that is exponentially spreading the world over, and one that is gravely affecting both man and nature.

Suleman Khilji, Figures in Transitional Space, oil and pigment on linen, 72in x 54in, 2022

Through his painting, Suleman Khilji also looks at the changed state of local waterbodies. As two figures stand before a backdrop of a cargo ship and face the audience, the artwork raises certain questions and ideas. Not only does it illustrate the murky, polluted ocean of our country, but it also reiterates the stance that many of us have taken during this time— turning our backs to the issue completely. As each painted figure suggests, we would much rather strike a pose, feeding our own vanity and narcissism; isolating ourselves from reality, much like the painted individuals.

As an artist, the path between creation and activism can become increasingly blurred. Many questions arise around the role of an artist. Whatever the answers, it is important to realize that art is largely a visual medium and unlike words, can transcend boundaries, language, and societal differences. It provides a larger platform for voices to be heard, be it through artworks, or through more drastic measures, such as the vandalism of a priceless work.

Participating artists in this exhibition include, Aamir Habib, Aneel Waghela, Haider Ali Naqvi, Hooria  Khan, Huria Khan, Hamid Ali Hanbhi, Jamil Baloch, Kiran Saleem, Mubashar Iqbal, Pak Khawateen Painting Club, Sadqain, Saulat Ajmal, Shahid Malik and Suleman Khilji.

The Group exhibition ‘Before the End of Time’, curated by Quddus Mirza, was held at the Canvas Gallery between 2nd  June 2022 and 14th June 2022.

Title image: Aneel Waghela, Portrait of the Past, print on archival paper, 16 inches x11 inches, 2022


Canvas Gallery, Before the End of Time, Catalogue, 2022

CBS News, ‘Mona Lisa smeared with cake in apparent climate protest’, 2022

Davis, Jeremy, The Birth of Anthropocene, University of California Press, 2016


  1. The Pak Khawateen Painting Club was initially formed as a response to creating a commission for the Lahore Bienanale 02. It consists of a group of female contemporary artists which include, Amna Hashmi, Saba Khan, Saulat Ajmal and Zohreen Murtaza. The artists work together to investigate ideas of displacement and power struggles specifically through the histories that surround hydrological engineering.

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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