The word ‘National’ conjugates for most of us an imagery of unity, cohesion and combined ownership. An exhibition that claims to be national thus has great responsibility on its shoulders to do justice to the many voices that form the ‘nation.’ In this regard, the 9th National Exhibition, currently on display at the PNCA Islamabad is a prime example.
Diverse range of voices, ideologues, techniques put together across the two floors of the gallery, it truly is a genuine exploration of the wide contribution that Pakistani artists – young, emerging and the masters – have made to the field of art. With subjects as diverse as miniature art to Chughtai’s inspired women, to contemporary art exploring issues of urban centers to abstract art, social commentary to pushing the boundaries of conceptual art, the exhibition for the art-starved is an all-round feast of the wide variety of subject matter that Pakistani artists are dealing with. With almost 500 artists represented, the exhibition really does demand attention and close inspection.
The exhibition starts off with a tribute to the masters – starting off aptly with a work of Colin David, “Quaid-e-Azam”. Within this section you would also find wonders by the likes of Bashir Ahmed, Hajra Mansoor, Saeed Akhtar – the list though doesn’t end here.
One of the themes that pops up quite significantly is that of tributes and homage to events and heroes of this land. Amina Ansari’s tribute to Abdul Sattar Edhi and Dr. Abdus Salam on an Ace Card, holds for the viewer a hero worship element but also the social commentary that has revolved around these two figures in the last few years. Sana Nezam pays her tribute to Cowasjee, writer and social activist in her work titled ‘Cows Jee’.
Tragedy is another theme that comes out in the exhibition. Akram Dost Baloch’s work reflects on the struggle of the Balochi people, while Agha Jandan’s piece is a sad reminder of the APS attack that took place in 2014.
Sculpture is another medium that is worth mentioning here. The techniques and expertise that are on display leave one feeling completely awed. While work by Amin Gulgee and Abdul Jabbar Gul are in a league of their own, there are others that are also worthy of attention. Ahmed Habib’s ‘Untitled’ narrates the tale of a stranded sailor and beautifully captures the passiveness and dejectedness of the subject matter. Syed Mubarak Shah’s sculptural piece depicts a man with wings, in which both the use of color and material only add to the complexity of the subject matter. Naseem’s Khan wooden sculptural piece though, is truly a masterpiece with its form and technical excellence, where a figure stands on its head with its feet up in the air, emanating an aura of grace.
Coming to social commentary, works like Wajid Ali’s ‘Kukkar’ (Rooster) and Risham Syed’s ‘We are sorry for this Transeni’ talk about the chaos and the dog-eat-dog – or in this kukkar – world. Wajid Ali with his red background enveloping the main subject of his work, and Risham’s powerful imagery of an unnamed street with its construction and development, feels like a finger on the pulse of what it is like living in Pakistan for many of us.
But not all is serious – on a lighter note, there is the colorful work by Qadir Jatiyal depicting a busy road with all its traffic and yet again the urban chaos. There is also Wasif Afridi’s work which talks about a budding romance between two youngsters captured beautifully in a diptych. And then of course there is another kind of chaos which is the subject of Hajra Cheema’s wittingly apt work titled ‘Shadi Season.’
But the exhibition is really much more than just this. It truly is a representation of every region, from Kalash all the way to the shores of Karachi and everything in between and beyond. The exhibition making a comeback after a break of 13 years has done justice to the word “National.” There, of course, is no such thing as perfect, and thus certain elements need to be worked upon, but the exhibition is worthy of our collective ownership and support.
The show is on display till 18th February 2018.
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