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Close encounters

In her recent solo show at Rohtas 2, Nisha Hasan adopts a completely different way of arranging her images, both conceptually and formally

Close encounters
(Left to right) Snow Boots: Constellation, Orphans Sitting Far Out, In Their Own Dust; Capgras-Delusions.

Among many other differences between a book and a film, one that is often neglected is related to the way both are enjoyed. A book by its nature invites a solitary reading while a movie is meant to be seen by a large audience. Although a book may be read aloud to a lot of people and a film can be watched by a single individual in the privacy of his room, the nature of these genres demand a different kind of involvement. Thus the author must be anticipating a solitary reader and the filmmaker must be aiming for screening in big cinema halls.

In a similar sense, art works can be divided on the basis of single and collective viewing. Certain pieces need solitary viewing, while some can be enjoyed with others. Traditionally, the miniature painting, due to its size and intricate execution, required closer and personal attention of a single connoisseur, whereas fresco and mural were seen by more then one persons at one time.

Beyond the classification of genres and techniques, sometimes the nature of imagery and artist’s concerns indicate that the work must be viewed alone. In fact, the presence of more people disturbs and distracts the intimate viewing of the art piece. This was experienced at the inauguration of Nisha Hasan’s solo exhibition ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’ held at Rohtas 2, Lahore from Jan 7-21, 2015.

While looking at her works on the wall, I felt the presence of other viewers somehow hindered my concentration. Her work demands thinking in front of each exhibit, not only because of its scale but due to the nature of visual components too. Her collages make one inclined to ponder on these assemblage of images in order to decipher the inherent meaning. A phenomenon that is not unique to Nisha Hasan’s work but one feels her collages can be approached in a much better way if the thinking process is intimate.

The nature of her images and the scheme of joining them indicate the personal approach of the artist. Hasan graduated in Fine Arts from the National College of Arts in 2012 but the recent body of work is, surprisingly, different from what she produced in her degree show or after. During her studies, she was engaged with painting made through putting layers of translucent visuals, almost like X-ray sheets. In those canvases, Hasan impressed the viewers by her command on the medium and her clarity of thought. But those surfaces were not enough for a painter who was eager to explore her visual vocabulary, like the language of literature.

Hasan has been reading poetry and prose (including Sylvia Plath, Albert Camus, Jaen Paul Sartre, Andre Gide and others) and one can detect the influence of this interest in her art-making. The uncanny blend of images, such as man with a stone in place of his head, dog split behind a square, bottle of Pepsi with the head of a turkey on top, neck of a horse joined with lumps of meat, an infant next to the cap of an astronaut, and a man sitting on a sheep remind one of strange relationships, possible and explored only in the world of fiction, especially in Surrealist and Absurd writings.

In fact this unreal and extraordinary atmosphere is created in her works, as if it existed in another world or some other planet. Nisha Hasan has relied on the pictures of space, constellations, satellites and astronauts’ suits — combined as well as juxtaposed with animals, either dismembered or disfigured (heads replaced with parts of machinery) — to convey a unique version of our familiar world. The scale of her collages and the size of her chosen images, both suggest a different kind of layout and invite intimate pictorial encounters.

Interestingly, in a majority of works, the printed photographs are black and white, thus reminding of old magazines, especially from the 1950s and ’60s published in Europe and North America. These visuals are mixed with other, more varied, portions thus creating a link that finally becomes and conveys the artist’s personal narrative.

In these formats, some interesting aspects could be deciphered, like in Snow Boots the man is about to wear one of his socks but, because of his hand holding the sock being so near to a horse’s seemingly blooded body, the piece of garment appears like a sliced ear of the animal. Similarly, the flock of sheep gathered under a stone disk and next to skeletal views of houses (Forbid Any Flower to be), seems to be from a haunted city.

In other works, the artist provides some kind of clue to decipher the content, as in Constellation, Orphans Sitting Far Out In Their Own Dust newly born children are composed with a space traveller’s helmet, or in Capgras- Delusions, a masked figure is standing next to a girl with mechanical gadget being her head and a woman having a coloured TV in place of her face. All allude to the world changing into an industrial and mechanical paradise.

To some extent it hardly matters if a viewer is able to grasp the meaning intended by the artist or conjures up his own interpretation because, like a piece of literature, the work of art can not be contained in a singular ‘description’.

Therefore, the works from her exhibition could be enjoyed on various levels. More than their meanings, it is the formal aspects of these works that entice a viewer. In an extraordinary manner, Nisha Hasan adopts a completely different, at least not popular, way of arranging her images. Rather then joining pieces from various sources in a scheme to create new forms and complex/overlapped shapes, she has placed small rectangles or cutouts next to each other against white or light backgrounds. Thus she is being clear, conscious and confident about her chosen vocabulary, the collage.

This unusual method of constructing her imagery conveys a formal sophistication that not only matches the power of meaning in her work, but becomes the outer, finer and final layer, besides considerably adding into its content.

Quddus Mirza

Quddus Mirza
The author is an art critic based in Lahore

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