Everyone who speaks a language, substituting physical objects with sounds, is an abstract artist. The outside world is contained in our head, and conveyed through speech and writing.
Often the surrounding is transformed in the form of memory, either in words or images. We collect and compose segments of past; but once stored, their initial state is altered. So what we possess at a specific point of time is a simplified, faded and edited version of reality. The hazy glimpses are enough to trigger our imagination or take us back to bygone times.
Perhaps the whole act of living is a series of recalling memories of all sorts and infusing new meanings, versions and visions into these fragments. In a sense art making is also a means to reclaiming memories and modifying them into entities that become collective possessions. In fact, art has the facility to transform a peculiar situation into a universal narrative — to which people from across cultures and continents can connect and associate. Like people consider the happenings in a village in Latin America in Marquez’s fiction as their own.
This is what one feels in the work of Ayesha Zulfiqar at her solo exhibition ‘Traces of the Familiar’ at the Gandhara Art Space, Karachi. She studied in England from 2013-14 to acquire her postgraduate degree from Chelsea College of Art, London. That journey, the first ever away from her home in Lahore, had a strong impact in shaping her imagery. She has created works using multiple means, of memory and imagination, to invoke her abandoned home.
Once you have lived at a place, it becomes a part of you no matter where you go. It happens in the realm of dreams too. In one’s memory and art, the past locations converge into one. It has happened with Zulfiqar too. Contrary to what happened to her in London, once she was back, the images and ideas linked with her place of residence in London became an integral part of her work. During her stay in UK, she drew rather mapped her room at an angle that intriguingly foretold her state of being physically away from that house.
The sense of being at one place yet acting as an outsider who gathers visual information alludes to our conditioning in this age of virtual realism. Often, the tourists do not enjoy the beauty of nature as it unfolds in front of them; rather, they prefer to record it in their cameras so they can relive these moments in the comfort of their homes. But they are living and not reliving those moments because they had missed the pleasure of initial contact.
Along with displaying the series of sensitive line drawings of her flat in London, Zulfiqar has produced pieces based upon the geometry of those spaces. In the exhibition, a viewer moves from one silhouette to the other of some architectural nature, and looks at the cut-out shapes of similar sort executed in blue resin (Celebrations),the exact documentation of empty spaces from those linear drawings.
One wonders, why the artist is more interested or keen on focusing on these ‘left out areas’ which are normally neglected because they do not contain or represent anything substantial, and are spaces not occupied by a person, a piece of furniture or a product. But if one investigates the interaction of human beings with a built area, one tends to agree with Javier Marias who writes in one of his novels that houses, chairs and other items used by humans survive more than a single master; when we are inside a building or sitting in a chair, we usually forget previous presences or others who would occupy these things after us. In that sense, the space or the negative space so to say, outlive the human connection, capacity and contact.
Ayesha Zulfiqar documents, preserves and presents that banal area which is open to the next tenant, but each person who lived there has taken a fraction of that space in his memory and psyche. Thus, the small shapes, immaculately executed in blue ink on paper or fabricated in blue resin, are like amulets which a resident carries with him after he leaves. These ‘miniature’ personal places, due to their scale and the choice of colour, remind of the Turkish amulets against evil eye. At the same time, because of their formal features, they have connection with minimal, formal and purely pictorial aesthetics.
The state of being at different places at one time, probably the pivotal point of Zulfiqar’s art, is experienced in her other works too; for example a chair immersed in a pile of sand (Authority of the Living) or a slice of earth placed inside the gallery (Room Relived).
Ayesha Zulfiqar had displayed a section of roadside as a huge piece of cake during her Degree Show at NCA (January 2009), and in her present exhibition one looks at the plan of a living room composed with clay on top of geometrical foundation. The presence of clay as a primordial substance of human habitation and the act of separating it from the rest of the building and presenting it in its raw state suggest how we live on this planet without being aware of the ground beneath our feet. Along with rekindling memory of a past place or time in physical format, it is a comment on our attitude toward location.
In an ironic manner, this large work of mud, clay and dust (10×10 feet) reminds of how physical territory has been tantalised in literature and cinema. Like in Jose Saramago’s The Stone Raft, the land of Iberia splits from the mainland Europe and drifts towards South America; and in Ketan Mehta’s film Bhavni Bhavai, soldiers of a tiny court of India, after a brief fight with a neighbouring state, return to their Raja and offer their conquered piece of land — no bigger than a brick!
The exhibition will continue till January 20, 2017