Traditional medium, contemporary message

If people want to dispute that the works of Pakistani women artists are not about taking artistic liberties, they must think twice. And if they believe that Indian miniature paintings are not still contemporised, they too must hold their opinion to themselves. For an exhibition of Pakistani and Indian artists at the newly built Art Alive gallery in S - 221 Panchsheel Park is a statement: one of freedom from the Pakistan side and innovation in medium and composition from the Indian side.

This exhibition of 16 artists, eight each from India and Pakistan, is curated by Sushma Bahl and Humaira Abid respectively, titled Contemporary Chronicles consists of miniatures.

The creations from Pakistan are mostly by women artists, who uninhibitedly voice their opinion. They are about breaking free of the shackles of an orthodox society (Humaira Abid), individual versus family constraints (Farheen Maqsood), emotions of a woman during pregnancy (Habiba Khan), the awe of the taboos (Saira Sheikh), innocent people and children being fed with a `gun mentality' by evil minds (Muhammad Zeeshan) and so on. Most of them have pastel shades minimally used.

Says Abid, "Our society is a male dominated one. Be it in the realm of art or otherwise. Women do feel restricted though the times are now better than General Zia-ul-Haque's regime. But slowly openness is creeping in. So we are drawing nudes as a symbol of freedom. Take for instance, nude woman in my works on the flat surface of the traditional iron. Men are offering that nude woman a rose and heart but they actually treat her as a subordinate. My works are not feminist ones but they are a symbolic of a woman's choice whether she accepts the man's offering or not."

But one may question the compromise made on aesthetics when it comes to taking artistic license in subject matter and treatment. So where does one draw the line?

"It is difficult to draw a line. But wherever these artists seem to have crossed some `aesthetic boundaries', they have tried to compensate it through their dignified colour scheme and composition etc.," justifies the artist adding that private galleries in Pakistan are "quite open in accepting bolder works unlike the Government galleries these days."

In the Indian works the age-old miniature works have found new definitions in terms of themes, compositions and medium.

Says Bahl, "I wanted the artists to utilise the age-old miniature style into today's time."

SMALL WORKS, BIG ISSUES Humaira Abid's Istri (above) and Shail Choyal's Neela Ghoda Ro Dhani at the exhibition in Art Alive gallery.

SMALL WORKS, BIG ISSUES Humaira Abid's Istri (above) and Shail Choyal's Neela Ghoda Ro Dhani at the exhibition in Art Alive gallery.  

"And most of the artists that I have chosen have been in the ambience where traditional miniature works are a part of their day-to-day life, as their ancestors have been into it. So they have inherited a love for the art and also draw from it."

And the results are very interesting. Take for instance, works by Vinay Sharma who uses the age-old Urdu script, which is actually a record of a historical event and ekes intricate designs on it.

Damodar Gurjar from Rajasthan turns his miniature into a narrative of Rajasthan's cricket stadium, scenic splendour in villages and outskirts.

Viren Talwar's miniatures are three-dimensional works on wood and canvas depicting men, animal and birds in complete harmony and Shail Choyal's depict legendary stories of Udaipur with allegorical images in spectacularly bright shades.

This exhibition, on view till October 7, is worth a visit.


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