The Rude but polite works of Mohsin Shafi

Text | Mariam Qureshi

Visuals | Courtesy Mohsin Shafi

Issue 40

Mohsin Shafi’s work doesn’t whine – it is crafty and an eloquent critique on what irks the artist about the society he lives in. The frustration and bitterness that he expresses in his work is enhanced when he travels abroad and is exposed to societies, which in his vision are bohemian and free spirited. What is fantastic about his work is that it is beautiful and grotesque at the same time. He makes fun and uses dark elements to depict relevant issues of society. His titles are a part of his concepts and art. They are poignant and interesting in their relevance to what he wants to critique in his art. His work is a paradox of being polite and rude at the same time. His work doesn’t avoid being pretty but his work is jarring in its commentary and the elements he uses can be dark and grotesque. 

The frames are opulent and heavily decorated with unusually gaudy colors. In his words “they are a mockery of all that is chaotic and hypocritical about the society.” Mohsin uses various techniques in his visuals. Ranging from etching to monotype. Photo transfer to ink jet printing and screen-printing but the most important medium is collage. He maintains ‘I have taken references from personal collections, print media and borrowed and “stolen” images from social media.” Mohsin comments “My recent work is an outcome of traveling and seeing societies which resulted in me looking at my society in a completely different way. My images are not a big philosophy on life but instead a cynical observation of our everyday Pakistani life and our social foibles. In the image titled “Oh so corny” depicts a common corn seller smoking a cigarette. He doesn’t have to deal with social demeanors that the upper class often has to deal with.”

Mohsin comments “I went to California for 4 months and I was surprised at their carefree and liberated society. In contradiction I went for grocery shopping at a local classy mall in a pair of slippers and I was surprised at the condescending gazes I was a victim of.” Mohsin is talking about the mere act of gazing and that certain look that psychologically jars a person who dares not to conform. In the image “ You run into temples and mosque. Would you dare to enter the shrine of your heart.” Mohsin juxtaposes a prayer mat in the centre surrounded by a crowd that seems to be watching a farce. Mohsin maintains “Often people say their prayers to appear self righteous to the society and convince themselves with their ‘Holier then thou” misconception.” He has also placed a gramophone on the side. Representing how people laud and announce their good deeds in and enjoying a smoke with their head being replaced a box designed to look like monuments in old Lahore. This image talks about people who have nothing to lose in reference to social conventions and are content with their lot and hence no pretentious facade to put up in front of the general public. “Who needs stakes when you can have strawberry and cream? depicts a man with a strawberry in place of his head baring his chest sitting on a pile of meat.

Mohsin explains “People often get so involved in petty matters in life that the they will bare their soul for people to devour them like a carnivore eating its pray that they overlook the sweeter things in life.” In “Its the little things in life.” Depicts children riding swans in mud and a balloon man with Mcdonald french fries as his face and a woman with a hijab in silhouette in the background. Mohsin maintains “ This image talks about Social stratification and how McDonald culture has taken over and outdoor activities are associated and performed to a certain class. You will only find the lower class children playing in mud now. In “And suddenly all the love songs are about you” depicts a faceless newly married couple juxtaposed on a monotype print. This is an interesting commentary on how marriage is the solution to all problems in our society. It is a very idealized institution in our society where the soul mate becomes a messiah. Similarly “Girlfriends are soulmates and men are people we just hang out with” depicts a man sitting on a line of washed laundry joined from one dinghy building to another, is about relationships and how community support is essential and validation from society is an utmost requirement. It also questions women’s dependency on the men of our society. “Domestic goddess” depicts a woman who looks like a man and she is so powerful in her domain that the artist has titled her a “Domestic Goddess”. This image has a feminist stance in which women of our societies have learnt to deal with all sorts of people and challenges that they have become very strong and independent. Mohsin maintains “Through my work I realized the older you grow the less you care about what society says and can focus on enjoying the little things in life. One is more content with one’s lot.” Mohsin’s work is an amalgam of a personal and a social commentary and it deals with pathos in a poignant and a polite manner, which is a very hard combination to achieve successfully. Mohsin Shafi graduated in Visual Communications and has a masters in Visual Communications from National College of Arts Lahore. His most recent work was displayed at the Taseer Art Gallery in Lahore public to appear to be a superior person. In the image “The home is where the heart is.” depicts two men sitting on their haunches.

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