‘Remonstrance’, the title of Imran Mudassar’s solo show at Rohtas 2 that opened on Jan 12 2017, is also subtitled New Works. If the title of the exhibition follows the monstrous trend of naming shows with strange, heavy and incomprehensible terms, the subtitle does not help either. One expected to see new creations of Imran Mudassar, but this hope or desire was not exactly fulfilled.
The title of the exhibition was perhaps taken from ‘Remonstrance I’, a painting made in graphite and gouache on canvas of 120×60 inches. The title as well as the works demonstrates the artist’s desire to create and control his art as a comment on the current situations of our country and the world.
Thus the references to guns, hand grenades, warplanes are found in the form of outlines or silhouettes along with patterns that remind of illuminated covers or decorations of religious literature. The connection is easy to construct, because the terror of our time is mainly caused by or is in response to militants fighting in the name of faith. Occasionally, anatomical shape of heart is also a part of some compositions, but the recurring human presence is the figure of a man, faceless, and naked, except his underwear, confronting the objects of violence. This is done literally too, as in the Untitled V the shoulders are covered by the cut-out of a rifle while the groin is being hit by the section of a decorative motif.
The human body, which resembles the artist’s, is encountering and suffering war in its surroundings, and is torn physically (as in the six panel video projection made in 2010, during the Khoj Artists’ Residency in India); the torso disintegrates to reveal a dark hollow. In his other works too, the body, almost bare, so without a cultural context, is exposed to signs that remind of war, the holy war, or the crusade (depending on which side of the fence you are).
Mudassar’s works, either on paper or on canvas and rendered in graphite or gouache, reaffirm his command in depicting his subject with precision. Details of human body, posture, outlines of weapons, and use of pure black area are a few traits to remember the skill and maturity of the artist who graduated from NCA in 2009 before obtaining his MFA from Punjab University in 2013. Prior to the Rohtas 2 show, he has already had 10 solo exhibitions of his work held in Pakistan, India and UAE, and has participated in numerous group shows at various venues.
When compared to Mudassar’s last two exhibitions in Lahore (‘Love or Hate’, Rohtas 2 in 2014; and ‘Secret Love’, Taseer Art Gallery in 2013), it is tough to find anything new in the latest collection. In terms of chromatic preference, choice of imagery and the aesthetic (compositional) options, the work appears to be the same; and likewise in terms of content and concerns.
The art world anticipates a sense of newness each time an artist is displaying his creations. The pressure is there, on the makers, viewers, critics, collectors and galleries alike. For some artists the real issue is how to evade this constant compulsion for producing novelty and to enjoy the freedom of doing what they really want. The urge for newness is also kind of market-driven.
In the realm of art, the distinction between old and modern is arbitrary because, as Picasso expressed, Prehistoric art and Egyptian art are as cotemporary as the art of his time. Whatever was made in the past seems part of the present if it resonates with the human psyche.
One of the most valid themes, with a potential of staying evergreen, is that of violence. It may have tormented the general public but has fascinated a number of artists. They find it extremely difficult to move away from that ‘subject’ to indulge in some pretty or petty pictorial pursuits. The real crisis for an artist is not how to cope with the perpetual threat of violence; the bigger problem is how to change one’s idiom and expression if the outside situation — the political, ethical and artistic position — stays the same.
Undoubtedly, there is much destruction in the physical world but in a sense it has also destroyed the practice of a few artists. They find it impossible to move beyond their chosen mode of depicting the ‘awful’ reality, which incidentally is not happening in our surroundings as frequently as was the case in the past. Such news is not just coming from Pakistan, but from Europe and Middle East too.
In these circumstances, artists like Imran Mudassar seem to be at a loss since their tools and tactics to deal with it are the same. But even if violence remains in the same format and intensity, a creative person searches for new ways to address the problems of his times.
(The exhibition will continue till Jan 27, 2017)