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How green is our grey

In two shows in Lahore, Zulfiqar Ahmed Zulfi and Soraya Sikander paint objects that exist in one’s imagination, fantasy and recollection

How green is our grey
Zulfiqar Ahmed Zulfi.

Before going to Europe I never realised there could be a shift in the character of light. Once I was back in Lahore and encountered the harsh sunshine of late July that I compared the same month in London in which light had an altogether different intensity and impact.

Elements of nature such as clouds, trees, fields and dust have different properties everywhere. The soil of various sites is distinct due to its pigmentation. Likewise, one notices modulation in the tone of green, looking at the lush fields of grass in different countries.

Artists are also dealing with it in a different manner — by just being faithful to themselves and their surroundings.

Zulfiqar Ahmed Zulfi is one of those painters who, while focusing on the outside world (a stretch of field, a lane in the city, cluster of houses in a village, combination of shops in a small town), delineates his social, cultural and historical roots. But through these visuals and views, he also reveals his inner self.

Thus, seeing his paintings that are a part of his recent solo exhibition at the Zulfi Art Gallery, Lahore, one gets the uncanny feeling of not only looking at the city in which the artist lives but the painter in whom the city lives. Tranquillity, serenity and mildness, qualities of the painter himself, are features abundantly found in his canvases. No matter if it is a busy street or a panoramic view of buildings, a misty morning in a busy neighbourhood or twilight in a crowded bazaar, all these places are bathed in an eternal light. Light that may cast shadows and clarify contours but is never harsh or hurting, much like the painter.

The light not only defines and describes objects, it also connects the diversity of things into uniformity. This is evident in Zulfi’s new works where elements of nature and man-made things exist in perfect harmony. Traces of historic structures from the old part of the town, a receding (rather reluctant) sky, setting sun, fading outlines, feeling of breeze, shaft of sunshine entering through a monumental arch, people engaged in their usual chores without being aware of their aesthetic significance or pictorial power create and complete his vision of city. The painter, who not only resides in a city but perceives its essence and ambiance, is able to portray all that in his canvases.

The works offer a delight not due to their subject, which loses its local connection and thus becomes universal but in terms of their painterly features.

The city seen through the work of Zulfiqar Ahmed Zulfi is not merely an outside entity; it exists in one’s imagination, fantasy and recollection. Because memory is a necessary tool for human beings to bring back what is lost or is temporarily away.

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Zulfiqar Ahmed Zulfi.

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Zulfiqar Ahmed Zulfi.

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Zulfiqar Ahmed Zulfi.

In Soraya Sikander’s recent paintings displayed at the Unicorn Gallery Lahore, one is aware of her surge to recreate and reconstruct what was experienced once, even momentarily and even if not in reality, but in the realm of imagination.

Trees and flowers, rendered in different formats and styles, denote how an artist invokes a sensation of being in front of, rather inside, nature and encounters the rustle of leaves, sound of breeze, fleeting clouds and last rays of setting sun. Everything that has been happening since billions of years but appears extraordinary each time it is experienced. Nature constantly surprizes you. A person can never get tired or bored by gazing at the sea waves or looking at a rural landscape and multiple aspects of nature.

Soraya Sikander.

Soraya Sikander.

Soraya Sikander.

Soraya Sikander.

Sikander portrays the basic structure of plants by concentrating on their linear forms (bunch of trees) or on the vibrancy of colours (petals of open flowers). In both cases, the artist is more interested in creating compositions with rhythm and vibrancy of hues. The works offer a delight, not due to their subject which loses its local connection and thus becomes universal, but in terms of their painterly features. She employs a range of strategies in order to gain her desired effect: of a perpetually growing canvas/image which in a sense is closer to the phenomenon and essence of nature, never static or nor stale.

Soraya Sikander.

Soraya Sikander.

Both artists, through their different viewpoints, portray our reality. But, instead of presenting its grim side or fulfilling a social responsibility or spreading political awareness, they discover areas which make our grey existence into a patch of lively green. They achieve this by attention to the act and craft of art-making. Layers of paint, sensitive tones, and delicate textures turn their paintings into an example of what the utmost task of an artist is — to make art. As the British novelist Edward St. Aubyn said: “The measure of a work of art is how much art it has in it, not how much ‘relevance’.”

Quddus Mirza

Quddus Mirza
The author is an art critic based in Lahore

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