Struggle and strife are at the heart of Alserkal Avenue’s exhibit Sleepless Constellations
The measure of a good art show should always be how it makes you feel rather than how much money it raises. At least, that is the opinion of Salima Hashmi, a prominent art historian and educator from Pakistan, who has curated the current exhibition at Dubai’s 1x1 Gallery with that in mind.
Hashmi had long wanted to put together a show that was unconcerned with the marketplace and instead concentrated on the thematic framework.
“I have always felt that if one is involved in art education, there is a wider perspective to keep in mind,” she says. “Art is to make sense of the world you are working in so, for me, it is something important, as a curator, to bear in mind. Ever since human beings landed on this planet, there has been a desire to make people whole through art.”
To allow the viewer to feel this wholeness, Hashmi selected artists she feels have endured some kind of strife, but rather than causing them to despair it has forced their gaze outward into the universe, to realise our existence is a mere speck in the vastness of infinity. In this, both viewers and artist can find peace. With this in mind, Hashmi named the show Sleepless Constellations, taken from a line of poetry by Faiz Ahmed Faiz, a Pakistani revolutionary poet.
She chose three mid-career female Pakistani artists and four very young artists to take part in the show. It is an excellent insight into the artistic landscape of Pakistan, with some important pieces of art on display.
Faiza Butt’s My Love Plays in Heavenly Ways 4 is perhaps the exhibition’s showpiece. The large acrylic painting depicts children – the artist’s own – wielding swords and riding whales across a multicoloured Milky Way filled with stars, planets and spots of light.
Such images are picked up again in a series of ceramics, which are aptly also titled Sleepless Constellation and filled with images of children fighting and smoking and who no longer have a childhood.
Although she lives in London, Butt’s work is themed heavily around war and conflict, which has blighted Pakistan for several decades. She also addresses the pressures of motherhood.
In the rear of the gallery, young artist Asif Khan concentrates on the 1947 war that led to the partition of India and Pakistan. He found strips of documentary film from the time and edited them to make new narratives questioning the very notions of history and truth in ways events are recorded and recounted.
Alongside these photographic pieces, a projected video of the moon plays showing the celestial body moving up and down in an endless cycle – a nod to the notion of infinity that pulls all of the artist’s work together.
Another notable work is by Ghulam Muhammed, this year’s winner of the Jameel Prize for contemporary art inspired by Islamic traditions. His untitled piece is made of strips cut out of books in the Urdu language, stuck together to form a kind of thread and then weaved together on a loom the artist made for the task.
The end result is a kind of “carpet” woven from pages of books, which address not only the complexity of language but also its fragility.
“His own language, Baluchi, is disappearing,” says Hashmi, “but he is also dealing with the oppression of language, how it presses down on smaller minorities, and how it exists in many layers.”
Interestingly, the piece has already been bought and is on show in Dubai as a loan. The attention to detail and precision is quite an achievement that can only really be appreciated when you see it in person.
Other artists whose work is featured in the show include Julius John Alum, a Christian Pakistani who comes from a tiny, and increasingly persecuted, minority. This issue is reflected in his series Shama Jalti Rahi, which remembers the story of a pregnant woman who was beaten to death for blasphemy.
Another moving work comes from Naiza Khan, whose evocatively haunting film of a derelict observatory on Manora Island off the coast of Karachi explores issues of exile and history, as well as her own experiences of being raised abroad and returning to Pakistan.
• Sleepless Constellations runs until April 30 at 1x1 Gallery, Alserkal Avenue, Dubai. Visit www.1x1artgallery.com for more details
Updated: April 4, 2017 04:00 AM