A beautiful, technically sound painting on a canvas, oozing with vivid colors and a story that can connect with each and every one of its viewers, is a rare sight now. The very fact that one can see forty-two such works in a single space is refreshing. “Recent works by Raja Changez Sultan” which opened on the 18th of January at Islamabad’s Tanzara Gallery, is just that!
Before you even enter the gallery, you are introduced to the poetic side of the artist, whose works wait on the other side of the door. “I Burn my Flesh” welcomes you to the show, setting the tone for the viewer, as both somber and inquisitive. The brochure handed to you, puts you face to face with the poet, and it becomes quite clear that the relationship between the works and the words is a constant theme.
As soon as you enter the gallery, you are surrounded by faces of beautiful women, looking out at you from their respective canvases. These women are part of the series titled, “Divided Self”, one of the four series on display. The other three are titled “Birds of Paradise”, “Himalayan Odyssey” and “Wood Nymphs”, of which the latter is the latest series.
The women seem to be a constant feature of Sultan’s work, though the ones on display in this show are more non-descript. The works either focus on the faces or on the whole figure, where the subject is either featured alone or in a group. The faces themselves don’t really stand out, their features indistinguishable from each other. But what does stay with you, is the feeling that you get when looking at the works. These figures contain within them an element of sadness, and a look of disappointment. In the works featuring multiple figures, it remains unclear whether you are looking at the same person or not, or maybe it is just one person and one self, divided into multitudes of moods and personalities.
The second series, “Birds of Paradise,” depicts groups of birds, behind a hazy mist, making their characteristics hard to distinguish, very much like the first series. The murkiness gives the birds a sense of being mystical creatures, their features hidden.
Both “The Himalayan Odyssey” and “The Wood Nymph” showcase mesmerizing landscapes and settings. While in The Himalayas, the focus remains on nature and the light that is reflected off water bodies and mountains around them, in Wood Nymphs, it shifts to nymphs within these environments.
With the continued exploration of the various works, one has to conclude that there is an overlap of the subject matter in these four series. You have the women and the birds with their indistinguishable features, and then you have landscapes followed by women; a surreal quality courtesy of the hazy blur is common to these works.
The show has been curated beautifully in terms of finding the right balance between the various color sets, enabling the viewer to compare and contrast the variety that the artist’s palette has to offer. The numbers of hues and tones that one witnesses in the show are extraordinary – so much so that one is shocked at the variety of oranges or whites used in these paintings. The works undoubtedly have been created through a painstaking process of applying thin layers of paint on the canvas.
The show offers the nostalgia of the yesteryears, where art was synonymous with paintings on canvases. While conceptual art may be the rave today, works like that of Raja Changez Sultan, continue to hold their own in the rapidly changing art world.
The show continues till 1st February 2017.
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