“I wish to dedicate Under the Dust to my cousin Sangat Jamaldini, and to Sangat’s friends and colleagues who died alongside him in the bombing of Civil Hospital in Quetta, Pakistan on August 8, 2016.”
The viewers who had missed this brief by the artist could still guess the work was about terror and torture faced by citizens from a politically- and socially-suppressed area. Saud Baloch’s solo show at Sanat Gallery in Karachi (August 16-26, 2016) comprised sculptures and drawings which dealt with the state of human beings, through the body.
Beyond the body, it appeared the works were connected more with the psyche than the physical aspects. In fact, when we translate terror and torture from reality into its representation, particularly in literature and visual arts, we tend to deviate. Replicating reality can be deceptive, as is often observed in photography — a medium that is considered to be more ‘true’. A creative person does not reproduce sites of bomb explosions, torn or bullet-ridden bodies or victims of political torture with their bodies showing signs of suffering. This is predictable since it does not add anything new to viewer’s perception apart from factual information.
Artists, somehow, move away from the facts in order to create fictions, which have greater and lasting effect. An ordinary picture shot at a photographer’s studio may ‘misrepresent’ a person since it fails to match his concept of himself. For instance, a mere depiction of grief or happiness does not meet the idea of what he may have in his mind. An idea which includes not only a particular moment or expression but encompasses what we have gathered, learned and believed about such situations, thus forming a composite ‘view’ of reality, is more ‘real’ than what our eyes show us in a passing contact.
In that sense, Saud Baloch has been aiming to represent the reality of his times and his place in such a way that whatever is created surpasses the limitations of both time and place. His focus is more on his place of origin, Balochistan, known for a long list of cruelties and horrors, perpetrated by multiple sides. But as the artist disclosed in his statement “…although the origins of my ideas can be found in my surroundings, I see the humanitarian crises with which I am concerned recurring in countries throughout the world”, the work did not have a stamp of a specific region.
His choice of pictorial language refers to one particular location as well as beyond because, both in his sculptures and drawings, one does not recognise a tag of nationality or ethnic community. Human figures, stripped of any segment of identity (such as clothes which serve to identify one’s region and age), were arranged in such a scheme that these invoked the essence of pain spread across continents and periods. Human figures —naked, suspended from the ceiling, standing with gold crown on their head or placed on a pedestal — narrate the condition of people living in critical circumstances. For example, in Tamasha (2016) the armless figure of a man sitting on a high block refers to a number of contrasting points. The man with amputated arms conveys the misery of persons encountering terror — linked to state, faith and ethnicity. At the same time, it invokes the history of European art (which due to ‘explainable’ reasons is now regarded as the main narrative of world art from the past), to the Venus de Milo, (c.130 – 100 BCE) with her body without both arms being the standard of beauty.
In the work of Saud Baloch, the history of art and the stories of present day atrocity merge in such a manner that the work is saved from being limited to one cause or community. Similar is the case with his other sculptures, Golden Age and Badshah, in which male bodies are made in a manner that they reveal the turmoil of our times. For instance, the figure of a naked young boy wearing a golden crown (Badshah, 2016) and a muscular figure with a yellow cloth that covers his head and ties the whole body with a hook on the ceiling (Golden Age, 2016) suggest how exposed the humanity is to the threat of terror and annihilation.
Perhaps the most significant, and shocking, element of these sculptures is their fabrication. Executed in fibreglass, these appear as if made in clay that has not dried yet. The colour and treatment of figurative detail enforce this perception. Making of the figure seems as if not complete and still to finish, but in reality that aspect of spontaneity, openness in handling the material as well as raw imagery makes it possible to see Saud Baloch’s work away from his intended content.
Compared to these life-size works, Baloch displays a number of other sculptures, made with stones and putty. In these pieces, one detects an effort to combine found objects with sculpted formats in order to depict diverse ideas. However, the stones with innumerable holes, joined with the head of a human being rendered in golden colour (the series of Life Masks) do not convince in terms of clarity or combining two components. In contrast to other works, this series does not convince in terms of exploration of ideas or medium since it suggests a sense of predetermined solution (formula) of idea and imagery.
It is the case with his drawings in which human bodies seem porous, or riddled with numerous holes and targets. More than mere holes, the body seemed to be dissolving in a state of uncertainty, since the hooded figures, torsos, covered heads, all looked like the eroded residue of human presence. Baloch deliberately denotes the element of bodies found in sacks through the manipulation of human figures like a composite of fissures; it entails the condition of individuals who disappeared or died and are found in those sacks.
With his content and intent, the work of Saud Baloch is perhaps replicating the greater (political) game that is going on in his province without anyone from outside ever noticing.