“The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.” – Oscar Wilde
Feica is not a new name to anyone who has ever seen political cartoons in Pakistani newspapers. The journey, which began several years ago, has only gained momentum for Rafique or Feica as he is known in the world of print media. During our recent conversation at the Alliance Francaise gallery in Karachi – where his exhibition “Inextricable Love” was running from April 22-28, 2017 – he gallantly declared that he would soon be painting on large canvases for another exhibition, whilst also complaining about other galleries not being readily accepting of his work. In his mind, he is an artist first and everything else later.
Rafique Ahmed was born in 1957 in Multan and went to the National College of Arts (NCA) in Lahore. After graduating, he started working with several magazines and newspapers, including the Muslim, The Star, Dawn, Hurriyat and the Frontier Post. Despite working for so many of these newspapers, his association with the Dawn group has been most unremitting. Day after day, the artist would present a new comic, a new cartoon and with that a new statement, which categorically reflected the problems of Pakistan. Ahmed had become the iconic Feica, one of the nation’s most popular and veteran political cartoonists.
It remains difficult to separate his current expression from that of the political cartoon. The paradox that his work presents in the exhibition is intriguing and enchanting at the same time. The kind of dissent, which is emblematic of his work, is fairly missing from this new series, which devotes itself to images of two abstract human bodies intertwined and intermingled in cubist fashion. There is an obsessive repetition of this imagery, rendered in different angles, perspectives and colour. There is angst in this repetition, which is perhaps what the artist desires to express as he reclaims his artistic identity again. But the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree and stylistic qualities of all of the drawings determine Feica’s “inextricable” romance with the cartoon.
There are certain drawings that address the current political scene of the country. One in particular is a direct reflection of atrocities committed by a formidable self-righteous patriarchal figure. Appearing to be a violent extremist, the man in the picture, who is wearing a turban, is seen clutching on to a child’s head in one hand, dragging a woman by her hair in the other. His face is blackened with graphite strokes, suggesting the darkened soul, exposed through his forceful actions. These narratives fit into the several issues that have recently come up in the Pakistani parliament, including domestic violence, acid attacks and honour killings.
But perhaps Feica does not intend on dwelling on these ideas very much because the rest of the works divert from violence to bodily love. The subsequent drawings and paintings demonstrate Feica’s unabated passion towards the tenderness of love, where he presents love in its various facets. While the works are abstract, they demonstrate the obvious through exaggerated body postures, indicative of love as lust, affection, eroticism, passion, and power. It is clear from the manner of his execution that, for him, despite all the troubles and turmoil, love conquers all. Although his interpretation of love appears to be limited it could be due to his stylistic rendition and also perhaps the emphasis he lays on, and the confidence he has in, the ‘institution’ of love.
When one observes his work carefully, one discovers the strokes with which the artist exaggerates, manipulates and informs his stylised characters. They are in perfect harmony and synchronicity with the centre of the image, creating a musical composition and proportionate distortions, allowing him to retain the primary characteristics of the personalities, figures and bodies he makes. He has, however, repeated these bodies to a great extent. While he introduces colour, shape and background to his work, the original image of the two bodies does not cease to exist.
This repetition is not entirely meaningless as it evidently embodies and emulates the cubist modernism of early Pakistani painting. The painterly strokes, adopted by the likes of Mashkoor Raza, Bashir Mirza, Jamil Naqsh and even Sadequain during the 1970s and the 80s, were directly inspired by the impressionist and cubist artworks showcased in museums in the West. Feica’s lines and strokes are no different, and are perhaps also reminiscent of that era of his youth when he was consumed by the phenomenon of cartoon making. His work revisits that life he wishes to relive through his modernist work.
Feica is as mysterious as he is multi-faceted. His art is not limited to modernism or drawing. In the mid-90s, Feica had opened his own radio channel, FM 103, in which he would assume the character of ‘Gullu Bhai’. There is certainly much more to the artist than meets the eye.
Disclaimer: Feica is an editorial cartoonist for Dawn, the daily newspaper of the Dawn Media Group, of which the Herald is also a part.
The writer is a lecturer at the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture