In 1983, General Ziaul Haq visited the National College of Arts as President of the Islamic Republic and opened an exhibition based on the poetry of Allama Iqbal. He also went to the college library where he saw a small miniature of Quaid-e-Azam. He liked the miniature but found it odd that it was too small: ‘Couldn’t this miniature be big?’ he inquired.
It seems Rabia Farooqui has responded to the deceased dictator’s desire. However, she is not the only one doing that. A number of miniature artists working in and out of Pakistan are making miniatures which are not ‘miniatures’ in the strict sense but large works on paper or on surfaces of different kinds: canvas, wood, metal, walls, floor and ceilings. The increase in scale in a way contradicts the definition and description of the term. But all words, including miniature, hold a limited meaning till these are used by creative individuals who expand their potential and turn them into a source of multiple interpretations.
Like words, humans also experience a variety of meanings in their lives, especially after an exchange with other humans. It is the personality of the outsider which forms us in a way. It could be the parent, ancestor, teacher, mentor etc. In the works of Rabia Farooqui in her solo exhibition (at Sanat Gallery, titled Clap Clap, I Approve, from July 25-August 3, 2017), one gets to know the presence of the other. Like a shadow. A man, middle aged, healthy, bearded, and mostly bare-chested, seems to be interacting with another being, almost his clone. Whether in combat, sharing music, in conversation, or jointly exercising, the person wearing baseball cap and sports shoes appears as a strange, yet plausible, character.
It is the presence of the other, his alter ego or spirit, that adds unusualness to this figure who is almost identical but performing a different task. For example, one is tired and lying on floor while the other is on a treadmill machine; one is stretching his white transparent shirt when the other is playing his guitar; one is resting against a sofa and the other is aiming his axe towards a rose; one is sitting on the floor without his sash but the other around him holds the sash; one is punching the other who is crouching on the ground. These visuals are disturbing because one detects in them an element of conflict or violence.
One may find some more clues to Farooqui’s choice of imagery. Apart from the artist’s ‘personal’ interpretation (since the model is her gardener!), the visuals create diverse narratives. For instance, in most works, one comes across the hand of another being, either holding a flower, mic, pressing a bell, pointing (that particular one reminds God’s hand from the Creation of Adam painted by Michelangelo in the Sistine chapel), playing trumpet, having a remote control, holding or dropping a ball, or clapping (an action that inspired the title of the show), all of which invoke the idea of the audience — a spectator who is part of the action, yet is on the fringe.
The inclusion of a mere hand connects that invisible person within the painting to an outside viewer who seems to be doing almost the same job: echoes the hand or arm of that unknown figure, enters his gaze into the image, thus becomes part of the entire co
The most important feature of Farooqui’s work is the inclusion of repeated patterns in her imagery. Various symmetrical motifs serve as the backdrop where the main action unfolds. However, the presence of these patterns is not prominent as the entire compositions are constructed with layers of images which, either transparent or opaque, formulate a language in which each syllable is heard and participates in the larger scheme of meaning. In some of her paintings, these designs appear connected to the acts of human bodies. For example, the zigzag motif occupies the background of two humans fighting with each other. Or arabesque introduced in the visual with a man playing his guitar adds to the lyrical quality of the image. At other places, these are mere backdrops that we often see in buildings, on clothes and in innumerable man-made objects. We spend our life among these designs, often not realising their effect, impact and power.
Nature does not offer a range of patterns; it is the man who makes pattern which signifies order. Man, in a way, seeks to establish order/logic within the diversity, spread and spontaneity of elements in his surroundings. This surge for pattern has an impact on our behaviour because we also learn to live in the domain of codes, order, and organisations. Patterns have taught us not to step beyond limits and to accept the predictable.
Thus, the layer of patterns for Farooqui is a means of conveying the normality of pain. This political understanding of her work is supported by her preference of imagery and her choice of building for these uncanny happenings. “Thereby, my work takes on a satirical approach to represent an exaggeration of conflict, distraction, opposing views which are inevitably highlighted through the use of these objects and thus narratives,” she writes.
No matter if a man is shirtless, engages in odd situations with others, or survives strange circumstances, each condition due to repetition becomes routine, acceptable and even enjoyable. Like the perpetual footage of violence on our electronic media transforms the gory scenes of death, destruction and carnage into ‘tamed’ visuals, seen and ignored easily.
Rabia Farooqui uses this material to comment upon the general condition through a personal vocabulary, a language that is made distinct by meticulously building tones with innumerable tiny marks put next to each other — to create large paintings. These can still be called miniatures because, like many others, Farooqui is also moving beyond a singular meaning and strict definition of words, genres and images.