‘Life is a Song’ opened on 22 May 2012 at Khaas Art Gallery in Islamabad. The exhibition featured work by Karachi based artist Masuma Halai Khwaja who had her first solo show in the capital. It was refreshing to see a mid career artist experiment with different media within the scope of painting to produce work that was both politically loaded and aesthetically impactful. The body of work included sixteen pieces, some oil paintings on canvas and some digital prints on canvas that the artist has reworked with oil paint, calligraphy, collage or thread work. One unusual piece was made by sandwiching plexi-glass with newspaper text on either side. The diversity worked well for the exhibition, making it experimental and strong. Her palette veered towards dark shades of blue, grey, brown and black, juxtaposed by a significant amount of newspaper text. Interestingly, all her titles were borrowed from old songs and play a role in the interpretation of each piece.
Halai’s practice raised questions about identity, both individually and collectively. Unlike the somewhat clichéd topic that this has become in recent years, she chose to focus on the new identities that people are consciously trying to create for themselves instead of dealing with culture, roots or heritage. Her artwork sought to better understand what the advantages or adversities of this new identity may bring about and to hedge through gaps that we fashion ourselves because of political influences. As most creativity is a form of self expression, Halai’s artwork also struck a personal chord as she dealt with her own parentage, trying to draw connections.
The exhibition attracted many visitors who found her imagery to be exceptionally powerful. While many artists have used Abayya-clad figures and the Kaffiyeh to make political statements, Halai’s artwork took on a different stance as she made her women break free by pushing away from boundaries or restrictions and, in the case of one of her paintings, quite literally by pushing a crate away from herself in ‘Ghar tho akhir apna hai.’ This put a positive, more liberating spin on the overall tone of the exhibit. The symbology behind her imagery was very striking and she succeeded in unnerving the viewer while making them consider this new identity that seems to be edging in on us. Will it take over?
More about the artist and Khaas Art Gallery can be found here: www.khaasgallery.com
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