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Canvas with a Cause

By 2 October 2003 No Comment

ayesha-khan-1-oct03An exhibition by Ayesha Khan opens at the V.M. Gallery on October 8. This is the Karachi-born, NCA graduate’s first solo exhibition. Her last major body of work – her painting thesis titled ‘The Open Wound’ – a protest against the violence in the city at the time, was extremely powerful and raw.

Her research had led her to watch autopsies and visit morgues. Filled with all the anger and passion of a college student, Ayesha put together a thesis that screamed revolt and rebellion. It was an outcry of moral outrage. Fetuses, dead bodies, raw flesh and bone, all larger than life, covered her canvases. Bold, garish colour, combined with delicate details, helped her portray violence (in the violation of flesh) while also showing the fragility of life.

Two years on, Ayesha has matured from a protesting student to an adult who seeks solutions through negotiation. Her new show is titled ‘Conversations (to be contd.).’ Her gaping wounds are now replaced with thin wires of communication. She still combines big, bold use of space and colour with delicate lines and intimate details.

There are a number of aspects of dialogue which are acknowledged by Ayesha. A series of small paintings in egg tempera called ‘Private matters’ tells the story of human relationships. A number of socks facing each other, as if in conversation, come together to find their “perfect mate.” Enter the unknown and they all squabble, “miscommunicate” and fall apart.

A series of larger paintings titled ‘Read between the stripes’ speak the language of politics. Red, white and blue colours discuss the Americanisation of Pakistani culture. A strange and surreal atmosphere is created as Ayesha explores the identity crisis faced by the country.

On another level, Ayesha plays with drapery to translate strands of conversations floating around and coming together, as if by magic, to form a narrative. Light silks and transparent chiffons are plucked out of the sky in ‘Spreading rumours’ and brought together to hang on telephone wires and streetlight poles, forming the recognisable stories of shirts and dresses – some so obvious you can see right through them, others opaque and mysterious, as to leave you guessing as to what lies beneath them. Many layers of cloth, many layers of dialogue.

Ayesha’s palette continues to be bright and daring but more happy than the in-your-face hues of her previous thesis. This is a story of hope and optimism. The size and colours are reminiscent of our billboards here, reminding one that she is talking about “street power.”

Once when she was asked how she felt she could serve her country through art, Ayesha said that given the opportunity, she would love to paint billboards that portray public-service messages to the layperson. “We are a city of billboards. We use them to advertise, but they should also be used to alter our visual environment and reinforce our social and spiritual ideals. To begin with, I want to take art out of the gallery and onto the street, out to the people,” says Ayesha, who can’t help but be inspired by the size and locations of Diego Riviera murals on walls and subways. “Galleries are elitist spaces and the layman is afraid to enter them.” This is in refreshing contrast to the trend of the last decade to put street ‘kitsch’ art into the galleries.

Ayesha’s work, however, is in no way an imitation of truck art. Thin-lined wires, transparent fabric and tender, detailed flowers are in fact reminiscent of miniature painting that has also seen a resurgence in the last decade.

Ayesha’s work seems to embody her personality: a pretty, petite woman who has big plans, and a vivacious, larger-than-life personality that makes it hard to ignore her presence. She has a zest for life and adventure. She is a risk-taker and her work is as powerful and emotive as she is.

So what happens when truck art meets miniature painting? Find out at the V.M. Gallery on October 8.




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