Staging Stillness
Staging Stillness

Materiality is one of the most contested concepts in contemporary art, often overlooked in critical academic writing. Material generally denotes substances that will undergo further processes. It indicates the forces of production at that time. The term ‘material’ describes not just the intrinsic matter but those substances that are prone to change through handling and intervention, interaction with their environment, and the fluctuating life due to their autonomous chemical reactions. Artists who focus more on materials in their work inevitably make political decisions to consider how the process of making can divulge their associated power relations and chart the trajectory of how historically we appropriated tools and spaces of both production and display.

Paraphernalia I, 2021, plaster of Paris with metal armature, life size, 3 editions + 2 artist proofs, image courtesy: Vasl Artist’s Association

Sadqain’s recently concluded solo exhibition at the T2F Gallery titled Muck lays out the artist’s keen fascination with material exploration. Sadqain previously examined materials such as concrete and metal with fluids such as oil and water. His work primarily entails sculptures and installations anchored in his recollections of how historically humankind employed these substances for different purposes. He dissects the physical properties of these materials, which in some cases, he manipulates to overthrow their commonly understood applications. After all, ‘to understand materials is to be able to tell their histories’1. Curated in collaboration between Vasl Artist’s Association and The Second Floor, Muck comprises sculptures and digital works that centre around the nature and meaning of plaster and chalk, a material ubiquitous in the field of construction, art, and primary level academia.

Plaster in art, design, and architecture is as old as civilization. It is malleable, multi-purposeful, quick-drying, and easy to prepare, making it user friendly as material for artistic production. Unsurprisingly, it remains a popular medium to train art students, particularly those pursuing sculpture or ceramics, with the processes of molding and casting.

Sadqain’s interaction with plaster during his years of formal education fascinated him and drew him closer to its properties. It is fragile and readily crumbles, leaving particles that stick loosely to these surfaces. It is also porous and lets water magically travel upwards. This observation led Sadqain to conduct experiments in which he tested whether pigments could also ascend within the plaster, possibly deforming the sculpture on its way.

The artist began making casts of his possessions brought from either his home or studio that captured the various periods from his childhood and adult life. After several attempts, Sadqain managed to realize his intention. He soaked the casts in different solutions, documenting the contamination at gradual steps.

He recreates his personal space in the gallery, in which the white objects represent a ghostly vestige of his belongings. This imitation demonstrates how his memories, or his perception of them, fade and mutate over time. The works also become a metaphor for the body and its relationship with dirt – a trope for past trauma, personal experiences and their recollections that evolve us as human beings, which Sadqain portrays in his use of black ink.

Sadqain recreated furniture, electronic appliances and gadgets, and various vessels – all in plaster. He posits the pristine, white sculptures that embody a sterile aesthetic within the gallery space. The thoughtful selection of casted objects also ideates issues of domesticity. They also address how those issues conflate with the circumstances brought forth from burgeoning manufacturing industries when the copious amount of available materials became generic ingredients for mass production. These objects also denote the consumer culture that becomes more apparent in the artist’s representations of vintage technology such as mini television, film cameras, and remote controls. A common thread in most sculptures is their performative function as receptacles. Shoes, vases, decanters, and video/audio cassette players act as apparatus to contain and consume. The quick and cheap production of goods during the Industrial Revolution fuelled a consumer culture that flourishes exceedingly to date. Interestingly, artists also began paying attention to unbeloved materials during industrialization. They began understanding materials that industries sourced and exhausted as conduits of meaning.

Cabinet Series II (Bottles), 2021, plaster of Paris with metal armature and wooden cabinet, life size, 3 editions + 2 Artist Proofs, image courtesy: Vasl Artist’s Association

Artists generally associate the processes of making they address in their work to formalism, while they consider the materials’ concrete, direct, and inert physicality which they opine carry imprinted messages. Similarly, Sadqain holds a fascination with substances that increasingly subvert traditional orders. He lends agency to the plaster and situates it within historical perspectives to open meanings of those materials used to their everyday, non-art connotations.

What makes Sadqain’s sculptural installations more fascinating is his introduction of black pigment to his perceivably sanitized white pieces. The ink makes contact with the white plaster and seeps upwards in a reverse cascade over time. Gradually, the plaster sculptures become entirely black as they ingurgitate the ink.

In Paraphernalia II, Sadqain places a drinking glass, wallet, and a remote which sat on a table, made entirely from plaster, in a gathered puddle of rich black ink. During the exhibition, the sculpture imbibes the ink, which in response mimics a nerve-like fibrous infestation that languidly travels up the table’s legs. The irreproachable purity corrodes under the shadow of the black pigment. This organic and self-governed amalgamation produces a hybrid, mutant material, where a new substance – or at least the illusion of it appears that critically comments on the initial components that instigated the experiment. While viewers may find the work lifeless and static over the duration they engage with it, they are subtly experiencing real-time in Sadqain’s sculpture as they continually evolve before us and present a new face each day. This phenomenon not only negotiates the concept of duration but also poses interesting questions about aesthetic behaviour and its reception. Why does a viewer stop and choose to stay before work? And what happens to both the viewer and the artwork during this momentarily paused engagement. These perplexing questions become prominent when audiences wait in front of a time sculpture, in this case, Sadqain’s three-dimensional artwork that is dynamic and transformative over the set duration of the exhibition. This particular piece allows for an augmented state of perception as viewers experience anxiety of waiting and temporal confusion that cements them to the spot.

Paraphernalia II, 2021, plaster of Paris with metal armature, life size, 3 editions + 2 artist proofs, image courtesy: Vasl Artist’s Association

The exhibition also entails a video that showcases the artist placing various objects in ink before it immediately starts to devour those forms and defy gravity because of osmosis. Few digital prints capture stills from different stages of this invasion, and few objects, entirely blackened, have also been displayed. The effects and meanings of destruction and dramatic metamorphosis become central to Sadqain’s work. He overturns destruction from a negative state and passive condition to a highly productive category. The mutating imagery aims to release us from the controlling effects of a still artwork. It extinguishes the art’s fixity as an arrested form and segues into the contingent and ephemeral.

Cabinet Series III (Tea Set), 2021, plaster of Paris with metal armature and wooden cabinet, life size, 3 editions + 2 artist proofs, image courtesy: Vasl Artist’s Association

Sadqain is not concerned with endings or beginning but with the accidental and fated process and transformation. The concerns in his practice do not result in eternal artworks but rather temporal, procedural configurations where materials are signifiers that manifest uncanny lives of their own and exercise their potential to metamorphose. Ink and plaster become wilful agents and actors within Sadqain’s artistic processes that disturb and silence. They ensnare the audience in a network of connections by self-deciding the dynamic of their dyadic relationship in unanticipated ways. Sadqain uses his materials as ingredients to expand notions of process, time, contingency, and audience reception and participation. He observes how materials can obstruct, disrupt, or interfere not only with each other but with their designated visual forms. In doing so, Sadqain allows subdued, messy, unstable substances and impure formations to surface.

Sadqain’s solo exhibition titled ‘Muck’ was displayed at The Second Floor Gallery in Karachi from November 19, 2021, to December 06, 2021.

Title image: Shelf Series II, 2021, plaster of Paris with metal armature, life size, 3 editions + 2 artist proofs, image courtesy: Vasl Artist’s Association


  1. Tim Ingold, ‘Toward an Ecology of Materials’, Annual Review of Anthropology, no. 41 (2012) 434.

Shah Numair Ahmed Abbasi is a multidisciplinary artist and a freelance writer who lives and works in Karachi. He completed his BFA with a distinction from the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture in 2014 where he specialised in sculpture and photography. Abbasi has since exhibited both locally and internationally. He was the recipient of the Gasworks Pakistan Residency 2018 in London, and Antropical Artists Residency 2019 in Steinfort. He was a Visiting Artist Fellow of the Laxmi Mittal South Asian Institute at Harvard University, Cambridge in 2020. Abbasi currently teaches Art and Design at a private O level institution.

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Comments (2)

  • Thanks Numair, i enjoyed reading this. I didn’t see this exhibition but Sadqain’s works here are evolving into something fascinating.

  • Love Sadeqain’s work! His aethetic is so unique and inviting


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