Urban Transitions, from Sprawl to Decay
Urban Transitions, from Sprawl to Decay

The significance of a shared experience can be examined by deconstructing its residual memory, the sequence of events becomes a string of buoys on the shoreline creating a horizon of unified observations and impressions. Even though the physical experience might have been shared, the reception and internalization of it can be multiplicité and expressed according to personal realizations existing in the confines of that moment. The two-person show Unreal Estate is a showcasing of paintings by Ali Raza and Samina Iqbal at Canvas Gallery that opened on February 20th, 2024. There is a delicate harmony between the two artists’ painting styles that can be seen as an interplay between cause and effect. Raza’s mark-making manifests into a surge of directional color compositions that feel immediate and gravitational while Iqbal’s works are anchored into structural and meditative tapestries that feel fossilized and archival, yet both artists use bold, symbolic, visual interventions as a medium for image making. There is a yin and yang effect between the two distinct artistic approaches evident when they come together to work on a combined set of paintings displayed alongside their individual bodies of work.

Ali Raza / Samina Iqbal, Short Cut, 16 x 16 Inches, Acrylics on canvas, 2024

Their art practice runs parallel to their shared matrimonial lives, starting their art careers in the 90s at the National College of Arts (NCA) in Lahore. Raza completed his Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in 2001 and Iqbal attended the same program in 2003. She then went on to complete her Doctor Of Philosophy (PhD) in Art History from Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, USA. Currently, Raza is serving as a Professor and Iqbal as Associate Professor in Art & Design at the Lahore School of Economics. Both artists have been teaching in USA and Pakistan, which immensely contributed to, and continues to inform, their art practice. Their academic tenures have greatly impacted their visual vocabularies, bridging the culturally nuanced perspective of their environment with the modern contemporary approach to painting in abstraction. The color and form appear to be hybrid and cross-cultural to the extent that they can be seen as global, universal, nonethnic and nonracial formations that represent the evolution of urban-scapes as seen anywhere in the world. Artists have a heightened sense of awareness of being witness to commercialization and gentrification of natural land, the displacement of communities and deliberate erasure of histories and peoples in the name of progress. The shamanic approach to viewing nature as sacred and alive, is disrupted by the invasion of industrialization or estate building— revealing that man is in direct conflict with nature. In the context of Pakistan, we have witnessed the destruction of agrarian lands at the hands of townships and housing schemes.

Ali Raza, Fresh Cuttings, 16 x 16 Inches, Acrylics on canvas, 2024

Our collective grief for the loss of nature is amplified by Raza’s color palette and artworks with the clean object outlines and silhouettes of homes, beams, cars, roads and fences commonly associated with urbanization. In Paper Construction, Pillar to Stay and Fresh Cuttings the resilience of nature in the face of urban expansion can be experienced through the contrast between a natural landscape and the intrusion of a man-made structure. The artist creates almost a live transmission that reveals the distortion of nature when in the presence of urban infrastructure. A realistic premonition into a possible future perhaps where the viewer can experience landscapes void of human presence. Similarly, Iqbal creates an intervention into the natural landscape using the structural presence of a billboard, decoding its cultural and physical implications in our visual life experience. The artist highlights the presence of a grid within the billboard using it to form building blocks resembling a wall, as seen in The New Oasis and Sky High. These meditative collections of textures, color, shadows and light come together to shape a compositional mapping of her life experiences when witnessing the wear and tear of the commercial billboard. The paint application is purposeful to resemble the weathering, ageing and fading often seen on billboards and graffitied street corners. Our relationship to consuming advertisement is jarring as most billboards cut into the view of the sky or tower over many green spaces. The neglect and repression of the natural begin to take the shape of an analogy for the psychological inner realm within ourselves.

Ali Raza, Pillar to Stay, 16 x 16 Inches, Acrylics on canvas, 2024
Samina Iqbal, The New Oasis, 59 x 47 Inches, Acrylics on canvas, 2024

Impressions of decay, hunger, thirst, and the beauty of everyday life depicted in Iqbal’s paintings coexist amidst the unstoppable urbanization reflected in Raza’s paintings. Together, their works offer a multifaceted exploration of gentrification, shedding light on the complex interplay between development, community, and identity in contemporary society. Through their art, Ali Raza and Samina Iqbal provoke critical reflection on the forces shaping our cities and landscapes, urging viewers to consider the human cost of progress and the importance of preserving the cultural and environmental heritage threatened by rapid urbanization.

Ali Raza, Rare View, 16 x 16 Inches, Acrylics on canvas, 2024
Samina Iqbal, After the Rain, 47 x 59 Inches, Acrylics on canvas, 2023

Through their artistic practices, Raza and Iqbal provoke critical reflection on the forces shaping our cities and landscapes, urging viewers to consider the human cost of progress and the importance of preserving the cultural and environmental heritage threatened by rapid urbanization. The traversing of time and distance is a shared experience for both artists where Raza is pushing forward, catapulting into the futuristic impression while Iqbal is slowing down and reflecting on what has been left behind. Even though they do not share a common studio space the viewer can build associations between their works that reveal their collaborative visual worldbuilding. We come to see the billboard as a monument or antenna that silently watches over commuters and communities while accumulating evidence of environmental evolution.

‘Unreal Estate’, a two person show by Ali Raza & Samina Iqbal was showcased at Canvas Gallery from February 20 – 29, 2024.

Title image: Samina Iqbal, To Let I, 36 x 58 Inches, Acrylics on canvas, 2020

Nayha Jehangir Khan completed her Bachelor in Fine Arts from York University, Toronto, Canada in 2010 and is currently based in Lahore. Her work experience includes fine arts, e-commerce & content, and art writing. She has written reviews covering art exhibitions, theatre, music, gastronomy, travel, dance & film for print and digital media publications, her writing expertise is focused on highlighting entrepreneurs & creatives. Passionate about art therapy, Nayha is an Art Therapy Practitioner and has experience in volunteer teaching in remote valleys of Northern Areas of Pakistan.

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