As part of their long held contribution to the Pakistan art scene, VM Art Gallery has continued to showcase the emerging talent of Pakistan through group exhibitions held for the past 17 years. There is a wide selection of fresh talent chosen from various art universities all over the country. Many of these artists have gone on to have illustrious careers that span national boundaries. In an exhibition at VM, a select group of alumni were invited back to display their present-day work in a new group exhibition titled ‘Emerged’.
The exhibition moved in various trajectories all relevant to current life. While living in the pandemic, the mask has become a vital part of our wardrobe. It is also therefore, a powerful, harsh and ubiquitous symbol that can be understood the world over. Therefore, it comes as no surprise when the mask now also enters the gallery space. Adnan Mairaj presents a series of iconic Pakistani individuals, such as Muhammad Ali Jinnah donning surgical masks. There is a confusion this work creates; while the mask is a common sight today, having Jinnah wearing it becomes surreal and phantastic knowing that he passed away soon after Pakistan gained independence. This piece, therefore, creates an unreal amalgamation of past and present. Or perhaps it could be understood as a foretelling; just as Jinnah is a vital symbol of our history, soon too will these masks and this pandemic become a thing of our past.
Continuing this conversation on past and present is Shanzay Subzwari. While using the layout of currency notes, the artist adds in elements of history, current post-colonial presence, and juxtaposes them with pop symbolism. The paintings become commentaries on the present-day economic situation of the country by comparing it to what it was in the past. In ‘The Colonizer’s Paradise’, Subzwari creates a scene reminiscent of the fictional and highly orientalized world of Disney’s Aladdin. To the colonizers, the Indo-Pak subcontinent looked like a foreign untamed space, full of riches and opportunities; and it became the Britishers prerogative to settle here and bestow their own culture on the ‘savages’ so as to save them— exploiting the land for their own economic gain at the same time, which seems reflective of political and economic practices of life today in Pakistan.
Faheem Rao’s sculpture is another symbol of our post-colonial identity. The murgha punishment, which forces alleged wrongdoers into a stressed pose where they are made to bend and grab their ears from under their knees, is something common in Pakistan. This punishment can be traced back to colonial rule and was often done in front of an audience, making the whole scene traumatic and humiliating. Rao’s piece acts as a somber reminder of how similar acts, if not the same one exactly, are being implemented on the common man who is still being exploited and humiliated in a variety of demeaning ways by those in power; to a point where they are treated no better than animals hence the murgha serves as an appropriate metaphor.
Arsalan Nasir is an artist who has been known to bring forth seemingly enjoyable and witty artworks into the gallery, that in turn depict unnerving and saddening truths. By replicating the famous childhood toy game of catching magnetic fish as they circled in a bowl before the player, the artist highlights how we as Karachiites have become so indifferent to the damage happening to our sea and it’s inhabitants, not to mention the exploitation of local fishermen who receive but a meagre wage for a hard day’s work. Part of fighting towards a sustainable planet includes the protection of oceans against pollution and over-fishing.
Additionally, though Mohsin Shaikh’s painting is a portrayal of the inner-workings of his creative mind, one can’t help but associate his visuals to the works of Nasir. Shaikh’s painting appears as a continuing theme to Nasir’s narrative. Through his painting of diverse sea life, we are reminded of all that could be lost because of human negligence when it comes to the ocean and its underwater creatures.
Marium Agha’s tapestries stand out in the exhibition. Her work talks about the reality of love, conveying perhaps a lot more than the artist has probably intended. The work breaks through barriers of art and craft, as well as reimagining the roles of objects when converted into art pieces. The threads that hang from her work She Won’t Dance gives new meaning to the raw material. Instead of an object meant to hold a garment together, the thread not only acts as a drawing tool creating the embroidered image, but also, as it hangs, allows the work to become sculptural and palpable.
While the exhibition displays a wide array of stimulating artworks and mediums, multiple narratives are being presented to the viewer without a visible connection. This review aims at weaving together some of the works through personal interpretation. Or perhaps, the exhibition should be appreciated for just as it appears to be— an exhibition of emerging talent who are in the process of creating a presence in the contemporary artscene through their work. The works are testaments of how far these artists have advanced in their careers, which is a commendable feat to witness in one space.
The group show ‘Emerged’ was on display at the VM Art Gallery from the 11th – 25th November 2021.
Title Image: Fahim Rao, The Shadow of Murgha Punishment, Brass, 9 x 14 x 17 inches, 2021