The Virtuosity of ‘Visual Zikr’
The Virtuosity of ‘Visual Zikr’

Erving Goffman, the venerated Canadian sociologist, is renowned for his profound insights into human interaction through his dramaturgical perspective. In his seminal work, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, Goffman eloquently draws parallels between social dynamics and theatrical performances, illuminating how individuals meticulously craft their personas to project a desirable self. This nuanced portrayal underscores the notion that individuals, in their pursuit of social acceptance, often resort to classifying and compartmentalizing their identities as a coping mechanism, thereby safeguarding their ‘sense of self’ amidst societal pressures.

In Faizan Reidinger’s solo exhibition Cognitive Constructs, curated by Humayun Memon and showcased at the Koel Gallery, Goffman’s profound sentiment finds resonance. Within the artist’s statement, Reidinger deftly elucidates how his artworks serve as allegorical representations of the intricate cognitive frameworks fashioned to navigate the complexities inherent in both individual consciousness and collective societal norms.

Through a visual narrative woven within his works, notably the series Transition I, II, and III, Reidinger delves into the nuanced exploration of self-imposed constraints, vividly depicted through geometric forms rendered on canvas. These forms, akin to self-protective mechanisms, encapsulate the human inclination to veil authenticity in the quest for validation from society; underscoring the pervasive influence of social approval in shaping individual and collective identities. Through his meticulous craftsmanship, the artist eloquently captures the essence of compartmentalization— revealing the intricate amalgamation between conformity and self-expression inherent in human interactions.

Transition stage I, II & III, 24 x 18, ink, acrylic, pinewood on canvas, 2023

His intentional interrogation of the boundaries between sculpture and painting serves as a metaphor for challenging social norms. By creating an evolving series that transitions from perfect geometrical forms to a more fluid and changing visual narrative, he guides viewers through an exploration of artistic forms and mediums. The flowing nature of Arabic text and shifting patterns become emblematic elements, enforcing ideas of contemplation for change. According to studies, individuals with tendencies for perfection often experience heightened levels of social anxiety. Moreover, perfectionists struggle with interpersonal relationships due to their propensity to set excessively high expectations for themselves and others. It’s important to note that correlation does not imply causation, and various factors contribute to mental health disorders. However, the relationship between perfectionism and negative mental health outcomes is a well-established area of study. Encouraging a more balanced and self-compassionate approach, as opposed to relentless perfectionism, is often recommended for promoting better mental health.

The French philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre, coined an existentialist concept that delves into ‘bad faith’— where individuals, to avoid anxiety of absolute freedom, conform to expectations laid down by society. The question then arises, ‘what can one do to truly safeguard their inner-self’? To preserve authenticity, amid societal pressures, involves self-awareness, critical reflection, and a commitment to one’s values. Embracing individuality, and resisting obedience and passivity, can be achieved through introspection and a conscious effort to align actions with personal beliefs. Reidinger’s artwork may provide a lens into navigating this journey, fostering a connection to inner values that transcends external expectations.

Terracotta, 36 x 48, ink, acrylic, balsa wood on canvas, 2023

You are the best nation produced [as an example] for mankind. You enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and believe in Allah. Among them are believers, but most of them are defiantly disobedient.” 1

The verse, in Surah Al Imran, highlights humanity’s inherent imperfections, emphasizing the continuous pursuit of goodness despite human fallibility. Simultaneously, the Quran consistently depicts God as a flawless embodiment of perfection. Reflecting on this theme with the artwork present at the gallery, we are reminded that true approval comes from the Divine Creator. When we prioritize pleasing Him, we become comfortable exposing our flaws and seeking a balance between our virtuous and flawed selves.

Inner light, 21 x 5 x 5, Chipwood, LED light, oil paint on glass, 2023

Inner Light probes into the imperfect nature of mankind, recognizing inherent flaws within human consciousness. The installation metaphorically illustrates the pursuit of inner light through Reidinger’s glass-like shafts adorned with inscriptions, symbolizing a soulful journey of self-reflection. The artist encourages viewers to embrace conformity to inner truth over societal norms, fostering a profound and multifaceted sense of accomplishment. Drawing inspiration from ‘Wabi Sabi’2, Reidinger’s work suggests that imperfections are unique and beautiful, marking the passage of time and the authenticity of existence. It acknowledges that flaws and vulnerabilities are integral components of the human experience. The thirteenth century Persian Sufi poet and mystic, Rumi, enquires into themes of divine love, the mystical journey of the soul and inner truth. He highlights the notion that the path to spiritual enlightenment is more achievable than the elusive quest for perfection. A quote attributed to Rumi captures this sentiment: “Don’t be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth.” In psychology, Carl Jung’s ideas align with this perspective; emphasizing the individuation process and encouraging the integration of both aspects, of light and obscurity, within oneself. Jung acknowledged the inherent imperfections in human nature, suggesting that true fulfilment comes from accepting and working with these facets rather than pursuing unattainable ideals. Conformity extends towards societal expectations, encompassing the acceptance of worldly desires. True success, however, lies in aligning with one’s spirituality, religious beliefs and inner truth.

Hive, 40 x 40, ink, acrylic, chipboard on canvas, 2023

Hive which reverberates DNA intricacies, can be connected to Quranic verses about God’s guidance to bees and the creation of healing honey. Nature’s duality, where a bee’s sting may harm while its honey heals, reflects the layered— but perfect— variations in creation.

Reidinger’s artworks strive to symbolically advocate God’s perfection in a tangible and visually striking manner. Marked by geometric precision they mirror nature’s harmony, serving as a testament to God’s immaculate design. The deliberate use of muted, earthy tones in the artworks serve to express admiration for and draw inspiration from nature.

Hovering 1, 20 x 20, ink, acrylic, canvas panel on canvas, 2023

Riedinger’s rhythmic text reflects the influence of a musical background, blending harmoniously with melodic qualities. This artistic integration offers a multi-sensory experience, resonating with the spiritual essence in both music and art. Noor Jehan Bilgrami pens her sentiments poetically, ‘It was almost like a crescendo slowly building up to musical notes. There is an element of musicality to the work that follows the principles of Classical music’. The artist’s profound connection with music, language, scripture, and Sufism is visually narrated in the artwork, creating a quest for spiritual fulfilment. The gallery space transforms into what he terms as “visual zikr,” a continual remembrance that encourages introspection and invites the audience into a meditative trance. This experience nurtures profound self-reflection, guiding individuals to re-discover their authentic paths.

Cognitive Constructs’, curated by Humayun Memon, was exhibited at the Koel Gallery from the January 10 to January 24, 2024

All Images Courtesy of Koel Gallery


  1. Surah Al-Imran Ayat 110 (3:110 Quran)
  2. The Japanese Art of Impermanence: Taken from the Japanese words wabi, which translates to less is more, and sabi, which means attentive melancholy, wabi-sabi refers to an awareness of the transient nature of earthly things and a corresponding pleasure in the things that bear the mark of this impermanence.

Zara Saeed Zuberi is an Art writer residing in Karachi. She completed her Bachelor In Fine Arts from Central Saint Martins, (University of the Arts, London) UK. She has worked previously with the Karachi Biennale in 2019, working alongside artists and curators in preparation for the show.

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