Text | Sara Yawar
Visuals | Ejaz Art Gallery
A two-person exhibition captioned ‘The Echoes of Silence’ took place on 25th October 2019 at the Ejaz Art Gallery, Lahore. On display were the recent works of Salman Hunzai and Usman Khalid, depicting an interesting array of figurative paintings that addressed the individual concerns of both the artists. Usman Khalid is a miniature painter based in Rawalpindi who graduated with a Bachelor’s in Fine Arts from the National College of Arts, Rawalpindi in 2016. Khalid focuses on the intricacy of the form, as he claims “God is in the details.” The statement reflects his treatment of the figures and nudes that he considers godlike, which he studies in meticulous detail. Another observation one can make about his work is the contrast that he creates between his figures and a stark white background, considering the latter as a ground of sanity that he claims gives him a sense of security.
In his visual ‘Her Touch’, the artist creates a study of a female nude figure with grainy texture, making it seem like a statue. With the white background complementing it, the figure becomes an object; that is not only sexualized but also an object of worship, as the artist searches for god within his own creations. Another interesting artwork created by Khalid is ‘I need to scream’ which depicts a partially draped female figure seated with her back to the viewer, seemingly hiding her appearance, which is a commonality in all of the artist’s visuals. Similarly, the female figure depicted in ‘Look in, look away’ also has her back to the viewer with a cropped head, almost as if it has been sliced midway. By hiding their identities, it seems as if the artist is trying to hide his own repressed thoughts or desires; by choosing to look away, perhaps he is avoiding confronting those feelings and desires. Another observation that can be made in these visuals is the artist’s use of gray tones to highlight the bodies while the clothes and other accessories have been given color. The female body here becomes a mere paradox; despite being considered sacred and ever living, it is at the same time a lifeless object hence, the gray is perhaps what adds value to the form. With these contrasts, Khalid’s visuals shed light upon the patriarchal world we reside in today and the oppression of the female identity.
Also displayed at this exhibition is the work of Salman Hunzai, a miniaturist painter. Hunzai’s work focuses on the dry mountains of Hunza where he grew up and comments on how these mammoth sized stone structures have influenced his artistic language. He compares these enormous structures to the human condition, where one becomes numb and resilient with disappointments and hardships. He gives the title of Dan-e-Jee to his visuals which means ‘My stone being’, painting various Greco-Roman portraits that compare the physicality of Greek sculptures to that of human beings in his current body of work. In Hunzai’s visuals, one cannot help but notice the avoiding gaze and somber expression of all the figures depicted; some figures are without eyes while some have hyper-realistic eyes.
The eyes not only compliment the stone figures but they perhaps reflect upon the mortality of these stone busts, since they are nothing but objects without those mortal features. Apart from the obvious, there are certain symbols that support the visuals painted by Hunzai as well; a male bust is shown to have realistic eyes while cracks are shown to be appearing over the surface of the face. The cracks shed light upon the fragility of stone sculptures and human beings; both crack under pressure and eventually wear away with time. A visual painted by Hunzai depicts the nude torso of a female figure whose head is draped with a red cloth while her forearm has been painted realistically adorning a delicate bracelet. The figure faces downwards with her index figure touching her face, seemingly shy. Like Usman Khalid’s work, this visual depicts the female body as a godlike entity but at the same time, as an object as well. By adding color to the headscarf and hand, the artist adds life to the frozen figure, perhaps to reflect upon the female body as a symbol of procreation. Taking the visuals of both the artists into consideration, they share a mutual ground when it comes to discussing the sacredness of the human body and its mortality. Not only do both the bodies symbolize reproduction but at the same time, they are nothing but objects that resist and survive under harrowing conditions. By creating such an engaging body of work, the visuals not only force the viewer to ponder upon the human ability to thrive under pressure, but also leaves one questioning the patriarchal culture we reside in and the lack of basic rights women face today, which includes taking control over their own bodies. This body of work will hopefully encourage viewers to consider these issues and help the future generation pave way for change.
Sara Yawar is an artist, designer, and writer based in Karachi who graduated with a BFA from the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture in 2017. Since then, she has been writing for various magazines which include DAWN and ArtNow Pakistan.