The world of white | Bis

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n January-February last year, gardeners built a torso of Allama Iqbal at Gulshan-i-Iqbal Park (in Allama Iqbal town, Lahore). The bard was sculpted holding a pen, supporting her signature whiskers, and with a shawl wrapped around her body. He seemed immersed in deep contemplation. The sculpture was surrounded by a bed of marigold flowers. The sculpture quickly became a trend on social media and was noticed by authorities. It was later deemed inappropriate and dismantled, not because of any objection to the depiction of the human body in the plastic arts, but because of its crude workmanship, which was deemed distasteful and disrespectful in the image of our national poet.

The sculpture, regardless of its aesthetic quality or artistic value, or issues of likeness, has become a defining point. Humble gardeners had assembled this figure, a large piece in fact, out of love, devotion and respect for the great writer. However, to many it didn’t look like the man and was cartoonish. It was a silly observation because its creators did not want to humiliate the national poet.

Mughal miniature painters, Egyptian relief carvers, African mask makers, and Far Eastern deity carvers depict human figures and features to their standards, which do not match Western standards of physicality. Even in European societies, there are great deviations. For example, in Michelangelo’s masterpiece Pieta,a sculpture of the Virgin Mary holding Jesus after the crucifixion, mother and son are the same age – which is impossible. Yet the statue is revered as a representation of the holy figure. Similarly, many representations of Buddha in India, Sri Lanka, China and Southeast Asia feature elongated ears and a third eye in the middle of two eyebrows, sometimes very stylized. These are far removed from our understanding of human proportions, features etcbut believers regard all of these as faithful images of historical figures.

The problem with Iqbal’s status was not his lack of observation, but his mode of making, which confirmed the absence of a conventional artistic training; it was a three-dimensional version of what an untrained man would draw with a pen, pencil, or chalk on a flat surface. It revealed the modest background of its creators.

The bureaucratic elite could not tolerate this mass intervention.

On the other hand, some highly skilled professionals, including artists, saw this sculpture in a different way. They appreciated, supported and admired him. To their sophisticated eyes and minds there is no true and authentic way to portray a human/historical figure and all attempts and variations are kosher.

Ayaz Jokhio paid tribute to those anonymous gardeners who first paid tribute to Dr Iqbal by installing his portrait in a public space. Jokhio’s work, a small replica of the original (now destroyed) sculpture of Iqbal in white is part of the COMO Museum of Art, Lahore’s current exhibition, Sculptor/Sculpture.

One can imagine how difficult it would be for PHA employees to produce this ambitious human figure (despite the fact that their efforts were labeled as crude and immature). It is even more difficult for an artist trained in the science/skill of observation to forget all that learning and return to a basic pattern of shaping the human body.

Ayaz Jokhio succeeded in recreating the poet in the portrait in white, celebrating a true public sculpture and simultaneously lamenting his loss. (Ironically, Jokhio’s initial clay model is also broken – due to the molding process – at his workplace.). Occupying a niche in the COMO Museum, Jokhio’s work is a way to revive a work of popular art and include it in the ziggurat great art.

He also rendered it pristine white, traditionally associated with tall, classical statuary; since the Greek marbles and their Roman reproductions are white. (Originally they were painted in different shades, but over time their surfaces became blank).

Another blank, another notable work at the COMO Museum, consists of maps of various nation states. Arranged in a cluster of tall structures, these maps by Nausheen Saeed convey an eerie feel. Due to their precise borders, these mean specific countries, that’s to say, Jordan, Bangladesh, Pakistan and several other states. But as soon as you recognize the shapes of countries, you realize that all of them – contrary to reality – are of the same size. Hence the New world order installation title. Along with scale, whiteness serves as an equalizing element in the territories imagined and created by Saeed. The cleavages of color, race, economy, political system, language, religion, history are eradicated in favor of a neutral and soothing white.

White continues as your favorite in the white corridors of the COMO Museum. Sadqain carved the plan of a house in plaster; a work that exists between the design of a building and its construction. The rough treatment of the plaster and the uneven layout add to the tactile sensibility of the work, which is accessed by moving around it – not entering it – like a locked house. Yet a viewer can see the entire area of ​​the structure, suggesting how our homes, offices, streets, neighborhoods, cities, countries are exposed to Google maps.

The slight difference between exposed and covered, between explicit and subtle, is addressed in the work of Rabiya Ilyas. Two round shapes, each with a central circle, suggest female breasts, but at the same time these can be read as eyes. The use of mirror on their exterior surfaces is very appreciable, as this reflective material defies a gaze to stay on these pieces for long. Another work, a wall composed of several tiny and textured portions of various structures, by Noor Ali Chagani is based on a purely pictorial encounter – sensual reading.

Probably the strong point of this sculpture exhibition (opening on September 10 and closing in January 2023) is that it presents works through statutes, experiences, exhibitions, subjects, solutions. The artists selected as part of a call for applications for this exhibition offer multiple interpretations of the term sculpture. From Ujala Hayat’s intricate, intimate and excellent installation, to Kishwar Kiani’s deep efforts in layer upon layer sensitivity, to Ayesha Quraishi’s driftwood, which resembles the body of a drowned being. These concerns are further experienced/explored in the site-specific installation of Mahbub Jokhio, Art for all.There are empty (maybe) shoeboxes packed in the Museum’s bookstore area. The cartons have text that – originally designed and created for Factory project (organized by Rameesha Azeem) in a shoe production unit – deals with the mixing of a leather item with works of art.

The extension of the notion and definition of sculpture by Mahbub Jokhio, Nausheen Saeed, Ayaz Jokhio and others recalls the glorious past of Gandhara statuary, the point of fusion of Greek and Indian traditions; and the current practice of making religious installations/decorations along roads. Their works, although small in size, are contemporary in nature; as well as stones in the archaeological museums of Pakistan, mean that despite sectarianism in the name of religion, customs, prejudices, the art of making sculpture is widespread. From the neglected gardeners of Gulshan-i-Iqbal Park to the roadside vendor arranging his fruits and vegetables according to color, shape and scale, to some of the most important names in Pakistani art exhibited at the COMO museum.


The writer is an art critic based in Lahore.

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