The titles of Moeen Faruqi’s paintings in his solo exhibition ‘The Blue Room & Other Stories’ held from Dec 2-15, 2014 at Khaas Art Gallery, Islamabad) are simple to the extent of appearing mundane, rather banal. Compared to the present fashion of naming works of art in jargon-inflicted terms like ‘ubiquitous narratives’ or ‘inquisitive conquests’, titles such as Man, Woman, The Corner, Dialogue and Karachi Kahani present a unique frame of mind. Of approaching art not purely on intellectual high grounds but extending its power and possibilities to the level of sensuous experiences and pictorial pleasures.
Actually the titles of Moeen Faruqi’s paintings not only describe images, but justify their formal constructions. For years, Faruqi has been producing works in a specific style, which can be classified as naïve, primitive or self-taught. But looking at his paintings from various periods, one recognises the sophistication in terms of his selection of visuals, compositions and content, despite the apparently ‘untrained’ scheme of applying paint.
In the recent solo exhibition some new elements were added in his way of working. A number of canvases were painted in different hues of blues. Likewise, several works were constructed in connecting surfaces which intrigued a viewer due to their structure of openness. The presence of these aspects along with his usual images of urban settings and portraits of various personalities under unusual lights indicate how the artist has been moving towards a more poetic narrative through his pictorial strategies.
This is not surprising because apart from being an established painter, Faruqi is also known as a writer and poet. This detail is significant in order to decode his paintings. He seems to be hinting at a sense of alienation, a feeling of uneasiness and an atmosphere of otherworldliness in his canvases. Reminding of verbal compositions, his visual constructions are created with elements that serve as signs and symbols to be deciphered, understood and enjoyed. In the exhibition at Khaas, some of the most recurring components are fish and cat. A man and a woman are holding fish in their hands, or it is placed on top of a head or above the group of people. Similarly a cat in its captivating gaze occupies the prime place in an interior, as well as in one of the panels from the composite canvases.
There have been other artists and authors employing symbols of such kinds in their creations. In our midst, Anwar Saeed uses the image of fish along with his male figures, suggesting the inherent connection between fish and the male body part (Faruqi’s blue series echoes Saeed’s earlier paintings too).
A number of writers have been transforming animals into potent symbols — to the extent of giving them human traits and characters. In the Urdu short stories of Rafique Hussain and novels by Syed Muhammad Ashraf, these creatures survive between the border of human and bestial existences, acquiring a persona which we often associate with human beings in their emotional trance. Something that can also be experienced in the short story Akhri Adami by Intizar Hussain, in which a whole tribe turns into monkeys due to it deceits.
In Moeen Faruqi’s paintings, animals, especially the cat does not belong to base world of beast and domestic specie but assumes a human-like role amid a group of desolate-looking individuals. A similar kind of character is bestowed on a bird, duck or head of a horse found in one of the corners or sections of the canvas. Along with these the painting space includes shapes of some sort of constructions and objects of interiors such as a ceiling fan, glasses, bottles, open book etc. thus communicating a series of concepts about our times and man’s association, rather dissatisfaction, with his surroundings.
Perhaps the most important development in the art of Moeen Faruqi is his scheme to reveal his content. Like a writer of fiction, who builds scenes and scenarios to delve with the issues of his epoch, without being too descriptive or direct, Faruqi too composes his pictorial elements without being illustrative.
This feature of work is mostly visible in a group of paintings, in which the artist has either physically added small panels to make a large painting or divided a big canvas in different sections with brush lines on the surface. Here the painter appears to be more adventurous in his method of treating his visual material as open narrative.
Through these works, Moeen Faruqi chooses the simplest means for making art. Seeing his work at the show, a viewer may not become aware of the artist’s command on his subject or the reason for adopting a certain pictorial language because, both in their arrangement and application of paint, the artist has made himself ambiguous. A viewer keeps thinking about the connection between a horse and piece of cake with one slice missing; or a bird looking at the portrait of a man in a picture frame; or a man resting his arm on the top of tablet, in which another character is shown holding his glass without any clue from the maker. All these scenarios and situations pose possible chains of thoughts, and links of ideas beyond the instruction or intrusion of the artist.
A similar attitude is visible in his way of painting human figures. This is not unusual or surprising. Because even if one is not familiar with his other passion of the painter (of being a writer), his canvases convey a blend of verbal and visuals. Hence one is unable to differentiate the word from the world, or the world from the word.