Sabza’ o Gul
(From where have the foliage and the flower come?
What is cloud,What is air?) Mirza Ghalib
(A delightful exhibition of artworks entitled “Sabza’o Gul” by a group of 7 artists opened at Chawkandi Art on September 23, 2014. The title has been borrowed from Mirza Ghalib’s couplet. The participating artists were Zarina Hashmi, Farooq Mustafa, Naz Ikramullah, Ghalib Baqar, Irfan Hasan, Meher Afroz and Madiha Sikander.)
Sabza’o Gulbrings into conversation the repertoire of the garden that emerges from the artists' imagination. The notion of the baaqh(garden), as centre, within the art gallery, proposes to draw on locations of contemporary aesthetics that may otherwise remain distant. What emerges in the physical proximity of this space is a meeting of trajectories, each of which has had its particular association to elements, such as the qul (flower), sabza (greenery, foliage), aks (reflection).
Paper is the necessary intermediary between the imagination that translates into image and word, a constant between the artist and the writer. It provides the context where the imagery and word (the idea) resonate. The collective work of the seven invited artists Zarina Hashmi, Naz Ikramullah, Meher Afroze, Ghalib Bagar, Farooq Mustafa, Irfan Hasan and Madiha Sikander reflects on the nature of the organic, and is anchored in a subtle pace and tenor in process, imagery and imagination.
Countless parallels in Urdu poetry speak of the baaqh as the garden (or world) of imagination ('Firdaus-e-takhayul). In order to enter the 'garden' it has been important to explore the connections between the imagery of garden in Urdu verse and the imagery of the artist. We entered the garden with discussions on nature in Allama Iqbal’s dialogue between God and Man (Shikwa and Jawab-e-Shikwa); we found references to Mir Taqi Mir who draws parallels between bahaar (spring), chawdhween ka chand (full moon) and zanjeer (chain), hence the title of Ghalib Bagar's watercolor Naqsh-e- Junoon.
The broader frame, however, begins and ends with the reflection of what is.
Ghalib Bagar's watercolor Nakhl e Jumaan (2010), for example, reflects on the notion of the tree as a metaphor for an imagination which, it suggests, goes beyond the imagery of nakhl or tree ( tassawurati khayalat se bhi ago',[beyond the imaginary ideas] reflects the artist). Gumaan in Urdu alludes to doubt (also waswasay), as well as to wonder. The imagery of the tree in the garden opens the frame into a philosophical area. Ghalib refers to the Urdu poet Aziz Hamid Madni's collection of poetry 'Nakhl e Gumaan' (1983). Madni was a linguist and stalwart of new Urdu ghazal. A poet's poet, he was not understood or popular widely. The connections that Ghalib Bagar has sought since the 1970s have most definitely become distant, because instead of the patronage to newness, his narrative recedes back, to retrieve (from) time.
Zarina Hashmi's woodcut, Rani's Garden (1986), has been the anchor for Sabza’o Gul.What is more appropriate a reflection of distances travelled, sought and revisited than Zarina's trajectory on paper. In her portfolio Home is a Foreign Place, 1997 (set of thirty six woodcuts, printed in black on handmade Indian paper), the etched line is the Axis (Mehvar, in Urdu), that encompasses the Home (Ghar), Courtyard (Sehn); it is where an illusion is established, of what is beyond the horizon, beyond depiction, in the works Morning (Subah), Evening (Sharn), and Dawn (Shafaq). This non linearity of the narrative of form appears to be also about the metaphorical, connected in the recollect of a physical time and space. The division of space draws from sensory elements, such as in the works Stillness (Saayah), Hot-Breeze (Loh), Fragrance (Khushboo). How the memory of a childhood can be articulated with one word in one's mother tongue and the desire to articulate it in a visual manifestation may be a common subtext in the work of Zarina, Ghallb and Meher Afroz. This may be the inner garden.
The gold patina in the outer four corners in Rani's Garden has worn off, but I would like to think that Zarina can be celebrated through her sister Rani, and Rani through Zarina. The drawn line and mark making on paper signifies a very special link between the two sisters, of a childhood shared and stories narrated. The garden must have a special place for Zarina, and Rani would signify that garden and its fragrance.
The luminous gold chador of Meher's earlier Naqsh Bar Aab series is articulated here in the simplicity of graphite; as structure and source. The mark of the graphite and points at which pieces of paper join are significant pathways of quests and hardships in the preparation for the ultimate journey. Floral imagery appears in Meher's Dastawez (Treatise) series, 2007, in which she refers to Faiz Ahmad Faiz's Waadi-e-Sina, which she views as a form of the marsiya. Through these associations she hints at the nature of sacrifice, and moral cleansing. She embeds parts of text from Aaley Raza's Salaam-e-Aakhir, marking the distance to history, and the nature of self awareness which is denied; hence the layering of paper. For Meher's work in Sabza’o Gul Khula Dareecha, Dar Aaee Saba' (The window opened, in came the breeze), the extended verse begins which translates as : 'I wondered if the wound was healed or not', and ends with 'it said no'. Dareecha could signify a direction of hope and sab'a, the embrace that is not.
The haashia (margin) is a constant through most of Meher's work, and it is interesting that Meher's work carries the perspective, pace, rhythm and nuance of the traditional miniature, more so than in many a 'contemporary miniature'. A miniaturists' miniaturist, or perhaps the only 'miniaturist' in our midst, her approach necessitates this embrace with the traditional, draws from it, and converses with it.
At an opposing end is the work of contemporary miniaturist Irfan Hasan, After William-Adolphe Bouqeaureau, (2014). His imagery draws from the core of classical European art historical discourse, which as many of his contemporaries, critiques the relationship of the self to the non western tradition of miniature by wag of negation.
Irlan's narrative is the anti-thesis to the Baaqh of Meher. Denying the traditions of the visual history of the Persian miniature, in which he was trained at the National College of Art in Lahore, he selects to paint a small tree in the Persian tradition. He does not enter the garden, and instead, meanders into the Christian mythological landscape of neo classicist French traditionalist painter William Adolphe-Bourgeaureau's work of 1892, The Awakening. Irfan enters this garden, but denies the complete narrative a space in his work, which is left largely bare, devoid of imagery. The marks in graphite and the white on white paper address a space that reiterates the absence of a presence, and that is the complete picture. He blocks the European landscape which is in the background of the scenario where the figurative nude occupies the center. Irfan omits the female nude, the central figure in this work, and in much of Bourgeaureau's other work. Incidentally, the cupid is the only figurative representation in this show, and ironically, that which is masked becomes the subversive center of his work. The bareness of paper carries with it the pathos of loss.
Naz Ikramullah's mixed media work A Dream is Born references a drawing from the Chamba School that she scans and paints on using a computer paint brush tool. Naz is a printmaker, but also uses a layering of wash, drawing brush tool, as well as color Xerox to fragment her compositional space. In the work on show here, The Blue Door (etching), the spatial division is in a non symmetrical alignment, a floating dreamscape of fleeting memories, like a khayal (thought). Naz’s imagery appears unanchored like the apparition, made of mist.
In one pathway, we come across a work by Madiha Sikander, All that Can't be Left Behind, 2014, the anthology A Child's Garden of Verses, compiled by R.I. Stevenson (1912). The volume bound in soft tan suede opens to the page: 'To Any Reader, reminiscing on a 'child of air, gone ...that lingers in the garden'. Something magical happens when the least labored contexts are brought within the artist's aesthetics. A most meticulously painted red rose by the miniaturist provides ownership of the 'found' verse, and makes the book an art object.
In another work, Madiha chooses to display the handwritten message in the back of a painting of flowers by a Dena M.Biggs, found in the local Sunday market. It reads: 'To a dear friend, a few flowers from our garden, hope you enjoy having it on your wall, your nearly-a-sister’. In a third work Gulshan Wala Ghur, she begins by incorporating the real map (also inspired by zarina) of her family home in Gulshan-e E qbal, Karachi. The painted imagery provides a poetic transition between the text to the image and vice versa. The two trajectories provide a parallel discourse, extending the meaning of each.
The only work not on paper, is painting on board Yume No Machi 1 by Farooq Mustafa, who divides his time between Lahore and Miito City, Japan. Yume in Japanese refers to dream, and machi is not a city, nor a village, but perhaps an area of houses, in between. The continuous wall around courtyards of mosques and houses, reminiscent of the inner city of Lahore, appears like fragile paper construction (kaaghaz kay ghar) which exposes his own inner garden. This work references the Japanese writer Haruki Murakami's work: 'Meanwhile in the garden, buds appear on the flower, and colorful petals attract bees and butterflies reminding us of the subtle transition of one season to the next'. (Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman).
About the artists:
Zarina Hashmi was born in Aligarh, in 1937. She acquired a B.Sc. (Honours) Degree from Aligarh Muslim University in 1958. She studied printmaking with S.W. Hagler at Atelier 17, Paris (1963-67), and woodblock printing at Tashi Yoshido Studio, Tokyo (1974). She has been awarded residencies at Art-Omi in Omi, New York, and at the Women's Studio Workshop, Rosendale, New York. She was awarded the N.Y.F.A. Fellowship (1985 and 1990). She has taught at the New York Feminist Art Institute, Bennington College, Bennington, Vermont, Cornell University, University of California, Santa Cruz and New York University. Zarina received the President's Award for Printmaking, India, in 1969.
Farooq Mustafa was born in Hyderabad in 1975. He received his Bachelor of Fine Art at the National College of Arts, Lahore, Pakistan. Before going on to the University of Tsukuba in Japan, in 2002, he completed Post Graduate Research Studies. Farooq lives and works between Mito City, Japan and Lahore.
Naz Ikramullah was born in 1938 London, England, and received a Diploma in painting and drawing from the Byam Shaw School of Fine Art, London, UK (1955-59). She studied sculpture at the Regent St. Polytechnic, London, UK (1961-63), lithography (post-graduate studies: Lithography with Stanley Jones and Lynton Lamb) from the Slade School of Fine Art, London, UK (1961-63). She has been teaching printmaking at the Ottawa School of Art, and divides her time between Ottawa and Karachi.
Ghalib Baqar was born in Karachi in 1956. He graduated from the Karachi School of Art in 1975, and holds a Masters Degree in Urdu Literature from Karachi University (1994). He has taught at the Karachi University, the Baluchistan Arts Council, Quetta, and Karachi Grammar School. He currently teaches at the Karachi School of Art.
Irfan Hasan was born in 1982. He graduated from the National College of Arts, Lahore, Pakistan, in 2006, with a specialization in lndo-Persian miniature painting. He conducts Indo-Persian miniature painting workshops at his private studios. He lives and works between Karachi and Lahore.
Meher Afroz was born in Lucknow, India, in 1948. She was awarded a Bachelor of Fine Art in 1971 from the Government College of Arts and Crafts, Lucknow, India. She has been awarded the Pride of Performance, in 2014, by the government of Pakistan. Meher lives and works in Karachi.
Madiha Sikander was born in Hyderabad, Pakistan, in 1987. She is a visual artist and writer currently based in Lahore. She graduated from the National College of Arts, Lahore, Pakistan, in 2009 majoring in miniature painting. She works and lives between Karachi and Lahore.