Marking Steps: Pakistani Women Artists
To mark the National Women’s Day on February 12, the Nomad Gallery in Islamabad held an art exhibition, titled The Women’s Perspective, featuring work by Sabah Husain, Lala Rukh, Aisha Imdad, Samra Khan and Saba Samee.
In her four mixed media works on display, Sabah Husain uses a photographic image of a dead, gnarled and warped piece of wood as a departure point. Acquired years ago, this sculptural piece with its weathered roots and burls is a metaphor for a warped, stunted torso, for a deliberately stultified sense of self, or of nationhood. Works like these speak through the power of suggestion: Brief, aborted lines and dots drawn around and on the photograph; droplets of ink and paint seemingly randomly spattered over the rest of the surface; a thumbprint; a map and lines of poetry. Through them it is possible to read a variety of meanings into the forms and marks made on the paper.
A committed minimalist, Lala Rukh’s series of five small nightscapes, wraithlike, ethereal wisps of grey appearing from the dense black ground of the paper, are like visual poetry, the shapes in each piece ebbing and flowing like tides, like things glimpsed and then lost. By contrast, Aisha Imdad’s set of five drawings titled ‘Tree of Life’ are almost naive in their content and composition; but seen out of the context of the former works they have an air of joy and innocent freshness, relating the tree of life’s concepts of growth and maturity to the Far Eastern mandala, pictured at the top left of each work.
Work grouped under a general title often results in a mixture of very different themes, not all of which come together. This may not be of consequence in an exhibition of many artists, but where there are five participants, it can result in contrasts which don’t necessarily compliment the work of a particular artist. Saba Samee’s photographs feature the trees and buildings that made up her ‘home,’ – the environment in and around her university – while Samra Khan’s architectural images, combining photographic images with water colour detail, are beautifully executed. But both lack the depth and scope of the first three artists.
If the label ‘women artists’ might insinuate limitations, the work of the first two artists mentioned are a culmination of years of experiment, manifesting maturity of thought and vision combined with technique that goes beyond the strictures of labelling. And in their refusal to pander to the demands of the art market, they provide an example for all serious artists.
This article was originally published in the March 2012 issue of Newsline under the headline “Marking Steps.”
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