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Face to face

Sana Kazi’s solo show at Rohtas 2 has some unintended consequences — the display becomes her content

Face to face
‘The Kingdom of God is within you I.’

Like many shows, there were more guests on the opening night than the portraits painted by Sana Kazi in her solo exhibition Spatial Transcendence at Rohtas 2 in Lahore. Kazi’s work is primarily based upon features of different people, photographed when they were asleep or pretending to be asleep. They are rendered in a manner that invokes the feeling of some ruinous entities or objects.

The sense of death (picture of a dead and a sleeping person looks identical!) and destruction is enhanced by the way Kazi chooses to display her creations. Contrary to normal gallery installations, her pieces are placed at odd angles and in unfamiliar locations.

You enter the exhibition by treading on wooden boards, serving as steps of the gallery’s main entrance, which are painted with different faces in dark and monochromatic hues. The journey in search of art works continues in the literal sense by walking on a train track installed on the paved pathway, which leads to the gallery’s main space. Made of iron and wooden planks with gravel underneath, the track is like the original except its width is narrower and is difficult to walk on.

In this track too, faces are submerged at places. A walker has to unearth the features underneath which now he sees now he doesn’t. Once that brief but frustrating and tiresome journey ends, another ordeal awaits the viewer — to find the artwork. Like an explorer in search of some deeply-buried fortune, he discovers another combination of portraits spread at the footsteps of the gallery entrance. Faces are framed in the door along with another set in the window that can be seen from outside but on an ignored side of the gallery.

Inside the gallery room, there is nothing on the walls. Instead, one work on paper is lying on the floor and two others are flatly suspended on the ceiling. In two of these paintings on the ceiling, one can detect figures drawn with layers of paint and textures; the same treatment that is visible in the work on the floor as well as in the rest of exhibits.

But can we call these pieces exhibits in the true sense of the word, because many viewers may have missed these paintings due to the peculiar scheme of display. Only if one has already sneaked into the show prior to its opening would he be able to locate all works.

An unusual display.

An unusual display.

Interestingly, the exhibition at Rohtas 2 opens up many debates about art and authorship. One feels that Kazi was eager to do something different and new: hence all the pain in putting steel girders in the main courtyard of the gallery, inviting visitors to walk on her painted portraits, and hiding her works from the usual viewing spots. One realises the artist was successful in making her exhibition unique; it was obvious by the appreciation from a large number of viewers on the opening night. But the fact remains that many viewers missed her work too.

Sana Kazi, perhaps unconsciously, has critiqued on the nature and function of art. Her exhibition, in a sense, is a comment on art conceived as an object of consumption and collection or an emblem of beauty that is viewed on the walls or on pedestals inside a gallery or a collector’s house. By concealing her works or leaving them for the viewers’ feet to trample on, she has transformed the artist’s own position towards his/her endearing creations as well as the notion of art as a means to please the eye.

All these ideas are inherent in her work without much on the surface; but this is not odd because a work of art surpasses its creator when it comes to its content, concerns and complexities. One is aware of many works of art and pieces of literature which present diverse interpretations later on, often without the knowledge or apparent intent of the artist/writer.

It appears that Sana Kazi in her surge to create a different display was not too concerned with other readings of her work. It appears that all faces painted or figures composed are created with a single formula — of eradicating details and introducing certain textures. Thus, in the end, the display becomes her content.

Therefore, it hardly matters if Kazi has produced 100 or 200 pieces or even more or less because all these, though different due to individual features, look similar in treatment. It is no big deal if the viewers outnumbered the art works because in any case the art works were not the priority; it was the exhibition itself.

(The exhibition that started on September 26 will remain open till October 11, 2014)

Quddus Mirza

Quddus Mirza
The author is an art critic based in Lahore

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