Pretty Can Be Gritty | Gandhara Art Space | October 1- November 18, 2015
Along with economic prosperity, new infrastructure development and diversity, urbanisation also reveals an ugly and disturbing side of an evolving society. In the exhibition titled Pretty Can Be Gritty held at Gandhara Art Space, artists Saba Khan, Sausan Saulat and Sara Khan present the effects of the global phenomenon of urbanisation through an ironical take on the impact it has – the major economical, environmental and social metamorphosis an area undergoes – as observed in a local context.
Each artist uses different materials and styles to illustrate the various changes brought about by urbanisation that normally go amiss. Sara Khan reveals a darker side of urbanised societies and the prevalence of violence in her paintings of women, adorned in bright jewellery, which are riddled with bullet holes. Saba Khan makes use of crystals, beads and glitter in her satirical paintings of urban environments and urban houses in which she incorporates colourful layered desserts as a motif. Saulat’s paintings, on the other hand, depict urban displacement and depression plastered on floral print wallpapers.
Sara Khan’s sketches of women’s body piercing jewellery are pleasant to the eyes at first, but upon a closer look, the deliberate damage done to the artwork with the help of bullet holes becomes the viewer’s only focus. Here, Sara Khan highlights a common urban problem: the high rate of violence and vandalism in urban societies is rendered as bullet holes, made by firing lead pellets on wasli — a type of handmade paper. Sara Khan, in her satirical portrayal of urban residents as “beautiful targets”, uses hand jewellery in her other two pieces – Brace-It and Hand-Over – where handcuffs are used as bracelets.
On the other hand, Saba Khan focuses more on homes and urban environments in her work. In Nice Homes near the Sewage Line, she reveals the irony of a progressive and developed society. Here, she shows homes that closely resemble manufactured boxes on an assembly line; on top of the houses, she uses Urdu-script to write out “nice homes”. At the bottom of this painting, another small painting reveals nature taking its form, with potted plants sitting in rows, surrounded by trees and greenery — ironically this half of the painting bears the title “Near Ganda-Nala” in English. Similar satirical contradictions pop up throughout her work, challenging the perspective of how we view urban spaces.
While the artists tackle issues of urbanisation, there is another parallel theme running through the artworks on display: femininity. Completely unplanned and unintentional, the female-relevant issues chosen were mostly driven from observation and personal experience. The artists, in fact, were not familiar with each other’s work prior to the exhibition. Saulat, similar to Sara Khan’s use of jewellery, also uses jewellery in Prozac Nation- Woman of Substance. She uses earrings and rings, but replaces the gems and stones with pills. Her painting titled Four Seasons in One Day shows five women with similar expressions of pain, anxiety and depression. One can’t help but ponder over the commentary on urban stress and the culture of depression that comes with it. Saulat’s other works – Kyun Ke Daagh Toh Achay Hotay Hain and Kahaani Ghar Ghar Ki – use floral patterned wallpaper as backdrop for all the chaos urbanisation brings with it; certainly a deliberate mismatch to seek beauty amidst chaos — or perhaps asking the world to remove its rose-coloured glasses and see itself for the frenzy it’s in.
All in all, the exhibition is a commentary on urbanization and the contradictions and problems it brings with it, while not detaching it from the beauty that can still be found in a state of flux.