Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Exhibition of Waqas Khan at Canvas Gallery

The work is reminiscent of organisms which originate in nature, grow, multiply and before dying reproduce themselves in wonderful ways. The interpretations can be manifold, but the sensory pleasure if foremost.
- Imran Qureishi

While most galleries have gone in hibernation during Ramadan, Canvas refuses to sit dormant and has put up an exhibition of works by a Lahore-based artist, Waqas Khan (which ran from 1-10sept).

I will have to admit that more than looking at the works I enjoyed meeting the artist himself. Surprised to find him at the gallery even after a week into the exhibition, Waqas jokingly exclaimed he had been spending more time at the gallery than its employees even. Introducing himself as an NCA graduate of 2008, he admitted that this was only his second solo show, the first being held at Rohtas Gallery in Lahore. On asking whether he was enjoying exhibiting in Karachi, I got a polite, but luke-warm response, ‘ummm, ya’. On inquiring further, he complained that the gallery visitors weren’t interactive enough, and that I was probably amongst the first to actually ask him about his art. Lahore he explained on the other hand, had a more inquisitive, and friendly art community.

His observation comes as no surprise since the art community in Karachi is without doubt very insular. I remember attending an exhibition opening at Rohtas in Lahore last winter and being amazed at how approachable everyone was. In Karachi however, this process is a lot more intimidating as the art elites either have too great an air about themselves or for whatever reason are unwilling to talk to those outside their group.

Coming back to his art, Waqas presents an impressive body of 20 pen and ink drawings. He works with felt tip on wasli, building up his images using the very fine and meticulous mark-making process of the pardakht technique. The artist is influenced by the two mediums of printmaking and miniature painting; however, he views his art not as miniatures, but rather prints on wasli. He stressed repeatedly that he was not a miniature painter, but rather a printmaker merely incorporating the miniature technique of pardakht in his works.

What I found interesting was how he liberates his works from the rigidity of pardakht by using the meticulous mark-making process to produce images which are amorphous. These organic forms, build up from infinite tiny cells, seem to be floating in space, moving in a rhythmic flow. His works have no preconceived notions attached to them, giving viewers the freedom to invent their own meanings. The formlessness moulds itself according to the viewer’s mind, so that the images can present endless possibilities. My favourite piece is the drawing done in blue below, which for me unerringly represents the face of a woman.

The past two decades have witnessed the renaissance of miniature painting in Pakistan, NCA being among the few art schools with an entire department devoted it. However, recently the movement seems to have come to a deadlock with the same sort of art being produced over and over, crammed with same old socio-political criticism. It is a refreshing change to see Waqas go off in a different direction, experimenting between the mediums of printmaking and miniature painting, forgoing the conceptual element in favour of sensory pleasure, expecting nothing from his viewers but visual indulgence.

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