Originally published in Art Now, Pakistan’s leading contemporary art magazine. (May 2017)
Artists have loved and devoured the idea of creating art in layered forms since Modern Art began to develop its roots in the western world. Arguably, first partly with Romanticism, then leading to Impressionism and then superseding ‘what the eye sees’ with ‘what the eye cannot see but that which the heart feels’, abstraction began to show its color in works of expressionist and more modernist forms of work. Abstraction and layers upon the canvas has seen fruition in the modernist movements of the short lived but fascinating Fauvism, the mightily influential Cubism and further soaking up non representation in geometries of Suprematism. Today abstraction still lingers around the edges, showing up in works of artists around the globe. In Pakistan where modern art flourished, the style is quite yet popular. ‘Hide and Seek’ exhibits works of Marium Kamal and Safwan Subzwari who choose to paint in a style that is strong in its type yet distantly reminiscent of the non-representative styles that seems out grown in the exhibited paintings.
Since the works are created by Marium and Safwan together, I shall refer to the ‘duo’ as the artists that have created all of the art works which include paintings and two stone works. The works are mostly abstract forms, resembling splashes, clouds and hazy watery surfaces in ink blue, white, some black and hues of orange. Some paintings are engaging with the quality of prompting the viewer to gaze and decipher a meaning, perhaps a concept. The duo has created works in light of the notion that life comes with so many subtle meanings that we seem lost in its tracks, without pausing to reflect or even search for our own selves. Our patterns and behaviors are layered and from within the layers, we need to find the beauty that is lost somewhere underneath. Thus ‘Hide and Seek’ is what the duo encourages the viewers to play – this time with the art on the walls. Both Marium and Safwan have education in film making and fine arts respectively and have exhibited their works in similar themes previously in the country and abroad.
There are canvases with proportioned sections dedicated to a basic background color such as orange, yellow, pale pink, red and white as abstract objects are painted on them. One painting that stands out particularly is titled Explosives in the Head, an abstract form with blue, black and white colors used to highlight the splashes which dominate its background. I can sense confusion and panic within this canvas and it quickly impresses upon me the kind of lives that we are so muddled in now. Another interesting painting shows cloudy and floating forms in shades of blue and white. Titled Comfort, I sense the calming effect that this painting intends to give to the viewer. Many forms phase out into shapes looking like faces, messed and layered. The duo has painted over pre-existing works of each other’s to further add to the nuance of a multi-faceted (read multi-faced) life we are engrossed in. As for the other paintings, this game of hide and seek might not come as reflective or striking for everyone, as anticipated. Huge canvases with forms of faces and balloons drawn in with other media as well, fall rather insipid despite some of the art bearing interesting abstract forms. Two hexagonal stones bearing small paintings offered almost a tingling sense of curiosity. A Simple Life Stuck In Time, the painting can be deciphered as ones childhood memories so carefully preserved underneath the mask of modern day reality we carry as adults; however the canvas offers more blankness than art for thought, for abstraction should be more than ruffled forms but fascinating art to gently prod the soul and heart with.
The complete series of works aims to have us examine our true selves, veiled underneath the duplicitous social fabric we have woven around us. Humble in its approach and intriguing in some of its paintings, the duo continues to explore the chosen theme through its art.
‘Hide and Seek: Mariam Kamal and Safwan Subzwari’ ran at Studio Seven Gallery in Karachi in May 2017.