The journey that started in 2017, with an idea to gather artists from various backgrounds and belonging to various regions of the country has now turned into a series of exhibitions that people wait for every year. Adeel Uz Zafar’s is the brain behind this concept of gathering artists to explicate and reconnoiter the language of contemporary art. The exhibition. Microcosm, has been held in 2017, 2018 and 2019. It could not be held during 2020 due to the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic. This essay is about its fourth season.
Curated by Zafar, an eminent artist, activist and curator, Microcosm 4 brought a number of established and budding artists together. The group show, held at AAN Gandhara, Karachi, ran for a month (in March). It featured exciting oeuvres, sculptures and installations by Aqsa Khan Nasar, Ammara Jabbar, Hamna Khalid, Hareem Jamil, Lujane Pagganwala, Rabbiya Illyas, Rabia S Akhtar, Ruqaia Abdul Aziz, Sadia Safder, Sadqain, Shanzay Subzwari, Syeda Kainat Jillani and Syeda Sheeza Ali.
The show offered a wide range of visual experiences that explored the socio-political, domestic and cultural topics. Glowing and shimmering, a fairytale scene turned out to be Aqsa Khan’s depiction of her homeland, Quetta. The artist highlighted the exquisiteness and richness of her land through the texture, prints and embellishment in her work.
Ammara Jabbar’s installation was stimulating as well witty. The sculpture, Stick Sauce-ery, was a decorated cart incorporating a hand in it structure that seemed to be ready to bless people – a domestic ritual. The other piece, Chashm-i-Bad Door, appeared to be a poster put forth by some aamil selling his expertise in resolving issues like marriage, divorce and foreign travel.
Belonging to a city that is already rich in culture and history, Hamna Khalid’s works are not only visually pleasing and temperate, but also very well-constructed. An amalgamation of painting and sculpture, her metal-cut drawings on paper looked like maps. The artist is building her own voice and narrative and bringing forth a new vocabulary to the medium.
Two hyper-realistic brains placed inside a thick glass box were worth analysing closely. The human brain has long been a subject of study. However, no medicine has ever been found to hush the mind’s internal murmuring. This is what Hareem Jamil represented in her clay sculpture Crows Inside My Brain. The beaks of the crows symbolised incessant noise. Another equally inspiring and realistic piece, Web Of Thoughts, was an extension of the notion that the clutches of some thoughts are very sturdy and can stunt a human brain’s growth.
Soothing to the eyes, a few funky-coloured installations by Lujane Pagganwala invited viewers to enter into another world through template glasses. The piece titled Postman Slat allowed viewers to interact with the work. Creating shadows of its own, each coloured glass was reflected in the next.
Rabbiya Illyas incorporated her concept of women empowerment and presented a body of work essentially based on Aina-Kari. I Saw What You Did, I Know What You Are, is about a lengthy debate on harassment of women regardless of age. It speaks of the innocence ruined by the close relatives and friends when a victim chooses to keep quite after the trauma of being harassed. The other piece is a wood and plastic sculpture shaped like a rocket ready for a launch. These works, beautified with mirrors, highlight issues facing women.
Rabia S Akhtar discussed the connection between all creatures in her work. A spell is being cast in Sunless Incantation where a strange-winged creature is grabbing a fish. The surrealistic atmosphere may appear uneasy and bizarre to some. The mayhem of colours starts unveiling it secrets under closer scrutiny.
Ruqaia Abdul Aziz’s work focused on the demand for a fair complexion. Created with erasure residue, she placed 10 bottles that have lighter-to-darker colour residues collected after erasing fairness cream advertisements from magazines. Beautiful? Not Beautiful? is another remarkable piece in which she has weaved the residues in two tones; a lighter and a darker one. In the middle, the tones are merged to question the standards of beauty and perfection.
Encapsulating the heritage, Sadia Safdar presented a series of artworks made with mesh wire and other scrap material. She incorporated imageries of her surroundings, experiences and landscapes. She explored each work in a separate medium. The process of layering and creating space was quite commendable. A few images thus depicted the true image of Karachi: polluted, hazy and parched.
Sadqain focuses on human relationships with its surroundings and how a human body reacts to certain situations. His works, Memory of Touch 1 and 2, are performative sculptures that suggest that the artist is reviewing a specific connection between the memories and how a human body reacts to those.
Intriguing and fascinating is how one can describe a video installation, Ghabrana Nahi Hai (No need to worry) by Shanzay Sabzwari. The title is an often-quoted line attributed to the prime minister. Her mastery of Mughal miniature and pop culture comes together and is juxtaposed on a ‘currency note,’ Not All Heroes Wear Capes, a tribute to people known to have extended help to the needy in troubled times.
The writer is an art, culture and entertainment journalist from Karachi, she can be reached at mmaheenaaziz @outlook.com