As a sequel to a successful group show curated by Karachi-based artist Adeel uz Zafar in 2017, Microcosm II brought together a new combination of up-and-coming and established artists. The show engaged its viewers with myriad artworks all uniquely presented.
The curator says the exhibition has its origin in the “conviction that some of the most radical” steps “in art history” have been taken by artists “in early stages of their career”. It, therefore, features “the stars of tomorrow’s art scene who bring a myriad of visual culture influences [to] their art practice”.
The opening work in the exhibition was Suleman Faisal’s installation which showed a hammer consistently hitting a mirror surface with just enough intensity that did not break it. The work at first irritated the viewer but blended into everything else as the audience moved around to other objects on display, reminding one of the unpleasant truths that are there around us but seldom attract our attention.
Rameez Rehman, another artist to use a mirror in his work, posed another question often ignored in our daily lives — that reality and its reflection are not always one and the same. He used various reflective and non-reflective materials to enhance the illusion of space and the notion of dimensions in order to show his audience various distortions of themselves. His work enthralled as much as it invited introspection.
Suleman Arshad took the idea of introspection a step ahead and directed his artistic lens to himself. He created soothing, undulating abstract forms with leftover papers on wasli which, he said, were hidden parts of himself that he had chosen to reveal through art.
In a similar way, Syed Hammad Gillani’s video depicted his own face blurring and coming into sharp focus in turns. Concerned about his “constant transition”, as he himself said, he wanted to explore how he was changing as an individual.
Hasnain Ali’s skilfully sculpted graphite doors in miniature with intricate detail, on the other hand, focused on changes in the outside world. His objects were a throwback to a time and space that no longer exist. The doors featured visuals from the artist’s own childhood in his village where, according to him, nobody locked their doors and privacy was an alien concept.
Rabia Khan, too, focused on the physical environment. She both surprised and perturbed the viewers with her seemingly mundane but deceptive pieces — things that one would see at construction sites and neglected roads. She brought them into the gallery space having made them out of weightless materials such as plastic and foam.
Sahar Musharaf’s intricate ceramic spheres and geometric shapes explored some abstract ideas such as the dichotomy between motion and stillness as well as the one between unity and diversity. Those who know a thing or two about ceramics are also aware that it is a delicate process-based art form and using it to illustrate non-figurative ideas is not always easy but the artist did a commendable job.
Sabir Ali Talpur, similarly, looked into the realm of ideas in his artwork, inspired by newspapers and made with pen on paper. His exhibit explored the dichotomy between absence and presence. Babar Gull, who also delved into abstract ideas, displayed images that remind one of glitches or pixelated lines in early computers.
Masood Subhani, too, identified his work as falling under abstract expressionism. He played with the idea of interaction between nature’s various forms, creating random compositions and formations using rust on canvas as his primary medium.
Batool Zehra’s work touched upon the theme of impermanence and change. She used ash – a natural material – to create her works which involved a time lapse video, an installation and a performance piece on the gallery stairs that was marred and altered by people walking over it or trying to avoid it. Her pieces reminded one of Islamic patterns or designs on prayer mats and offered interesting allusions to what she calls “the idea of something that once existed”.
Wajahat Saeed’s embroidered pieces reminded the viewers of intricate borders found in religious books and manuscripts but, contrary to expectation, they contained no text within them. Born in Parachinar, which has a history of sectarian violence, the artist translated the bloodshed he had witnessed into art but had left his works blank to symbolise how, in his own words, we “interpret [religious] text according to our own ignorant understandings”.
On the second floor of the gallery, a long line of excited viewers was waiting to experience Numair Abbasi’s installation. With bated breath, one by one, they entered a comfortable looking space that the artist had modelled on his bedroom. They were instructed to remove at least one part of their dress and then proceed to have themselves photographed with a remote-controlled camera. After they spent some more time exploring the room, they were presented a print of their photo also featuring the artist in an almost nude form.
The work was noteworthy at many levels: it required unconditional participation by the audience in its execution; it allowed the viewers to become voyeurs of sorts but also the ones being looked at; and it made them question their comfort levels with the notions of nudity and sexuality. Another exhibit on this floor was a poignant piece by Madiha Hyder. It was in the form of a stop-motion video showing charcoal drawings of her cat growing up, becoming old and then dying. A departure from the artist’s previous practice of using oil paintings as her medium of expression, the video was accompanied by a heart-wrenching piece written by her on the passing of time.
This resonated strongly with the audience. Here is a snippet: “When we are young, time seems infinite/We feel like we have all the time in the world to do and achieve what we want/ We take things for granted … All too soon the realisation hits/ Time is indeed moving really fast and we have no control over it … And when it feels like it is finally slowing down, it’s too late/ We are no longer young/ All those opportunities and dreams still exist/ But we no longer have the will to give chase/ So we fall back and wait until it ends.”
The third work displayed here was Hamida Khatri’s stop-motion animation that looked at child abuse and rape by telling the story of eight-year-old Laali. Using a puppet that represented every girl child and every woman around the world who has experienced sexual violence, the artist brought to light a serious issue via a traditional folk medium wedded to a digital format. Also on display on this floor were Wajid Ali’s backlit pieces, made with pen on acrylic, which revealed his personal experiences with various forms of transport.
This successful, well-curated exhibition has raised expectations that its next installment will see the light of day soon — and will be equally exciting.
The writer is a visual artist and freelance writer who graduated from Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture.
This was originally published in the August 2018 issue of the Herald. To read more subscribe to the Herald in print.