Amra Ali, in her curator’s statement for Objects We Behold, stresses upon two words — personal and political. She states how artworks showcased in the exhibition have been created from images and found objects through “processes of re-constructing” which involve changes in scales and contexts. The nature of these “interventions”, she says, is defined by the respective personal and political journeys of each of the five featured artists.
Created from disparate objects and materials that may or may not have an intrinsic artistic value, each work on display at Objects We Behold offers a meaningful commentary on life and art. Not just that. In combination with other works presented under the same gallery roof, it contributes to a collective narrative about time and space and their impact on everything around us.
Ruby Chishti, one of the participating artists, is primarily a sculptor and her art is predominantly autobiographical. Her works in the exhibition are an amalgamation and manipulation of various types of fabric, revealing her acute understanding of the inherent aesthetics of her raw materials. From afar, her sculptures look like tree bark covered in moss. On closer inspection, they turn out to be clothes with pieces of fabric attached to them.
Her larger than life overcoat has turned-over pant pockets and other random pieces of fabric peeking out of it. Just like dissimilar repair patches on an old garment, her sculpture suggests how we try to seek sanctuary in the crevices of abstract ideas when we feel frail and vulnerable even when those ideas remain visibly alien to our lives.
Her overcoat also camouflages crows perching on a tree branch. Ruby is known for including these birds in her artworks because, as she pointed out in an interview, they are “resilient [and] unchanged by evolution” and have never left the company of human beings through myriad temporal and spatial changes.
Tazeen Qayyum, a contemporary artist living and working in Ontario, Canada, has utilised hot water bottles – a common household object used for soothing aching limbs – in her work to offer a similar commentary on life’s journey. She took 26 bottles, ripped them apart, sewed them back together, painted and wrote over them and turned them into an artwork that documents life, love and loathing of the people who once used them — thus portraying their personal traumas and individual struggles.
The artist also seems to highlight the power of subconscious associations that human beings develop with mundane objects. While finding solace and seeking physical strength through those objects, human beings could be propelled into introspection which could result in an improved awareness of their own weaknesses and vulnerability, she suggests.
The term ‘found object’ is used for things or materials which originally have non-art functions. Affan Baghpati collects such objects, deconstructs them, mixes and matches them with each other and, as a result of all this, creates artworks that assign new functions and meanings to his raw material. His work, he says in his artist’s note for the exhibition, explores how functions and purposes of things change over time.
His main piece at Objects We Behold is simultaneously intriguing and ridiculous. It consists of a settee that contains a miniature fountain and a grassy turf in a glass case where its seat should have been. Water flowing through the fountain calmly trickles into a small pool in which tiny goldfish swim about.
The artist’s displays also include water containers, kohl bottles, strainers, soap dishes and old furniture. These are all stripped off their original functions and displayed in heavily decorated golden frames thus turning them into their own romanticised versions — gilded museum pieces with no practical utility.
Baghpati explains in his artist’s note that these objects, once parts of households across South Asia, are either losing or have already lost their usage and are now reduced to being the remnants of a fast fading aesthetic and material culture.
Adeela Suleman, a sculptor and educationist whose work has been featured in notable international exhibitions, has crafted a visual language of her own through an arrangement – repetition and unexpected but meaningful juxtaposition – of the objects she uses in her artwork. Her four-stage chandelier displayed at Objects We Behold is made of small and slender steel swords bent inwards. She has put them together in such a way that they form a harmonious and coherent piece of art that has its own aesthetic though dark appeal.
“For me the sword symbolizes power, protection, authority, strength, and courage … but these swords have become dysfunctional. Their very rigor and power have been stripped from [them], they are weeping,” Adeela notes in her artist’s statement.
Her artefact is also a manifestation of her twin artistic concerns — violence and the aesthetics applied to its documentation. She explores how violence has been presented in a glorified manner and how this glorification violates moral sensibilities and manipulates public opinion. At a broad metaphoric level, she probes various facets of the relationship human beings have with death — not just as perpetrators and victims of death but also as its presenters and viewers. Marium Agha’s work examines the relationship between art and life (or death) in a different way.
For her, art leaves a permanent mark over its raw material just as marks made with a needle during the production of hand-woven textile tapestries – that she uses in her artwork – cannot be erased.
Three canvases, each roughly measuring 3x4 inches, also form a part of her displays at the exhibition. Each of them shows a delicate imitation – created out of shiny beads – of the works of revolutionary European artists of the past: Cezanne, Monet and Van Gogh. Withering flowers in her canvases symbolise the ephemeral nature of love, material wealth and beauty.
Marium, indeed, has an artistic preoccupation with investigating the semantic connotations of ‘love’. She probes how the usage of the word for several distinct acts – that is, making love, being in love, showing love for one’s mother, professing love for mankind, etc – makes it impossible to assign it any definite meaning.
Some of the works displayed at the exhibition target the audience’s senses at an abstract level; others seem to tell human interest stories through symbols; but all of them stress the importance of ever-changing personal and political contexts in exploring the relationship between material objects and human beings.
This article was published in the Herald's November 2018 issue. To read more subscribe to the Herald in print.