Scheherzade Junejo is full of life – an animated personality who is interestingly, rather the opposite of her paintings. Her work contains clinical, androgynous figures that remind you of drones or aliens. The figures are macabre and mostly monochromatic in style and rendered in great detail. The artist deliberately seeks to remove the human element from her figures so that you start to realize that as a society, this is what we have allowed ourselves to become. When a designer bag enters a room before the person holding it, you know something is amiss. Or at least, it’s something the artist wishes to point out is unsettling. Undoubtedly, human nature pushes us to put our best foot forward in most circumstances. And so we tend to wear masks that increasingly develop more layers. Junejo strips her figures bare of these false layers and shows us the truth. In a world full of materialism, self-promotion and branding, social media has added to the general mix and has made us become even more egocentric, self-promotional and layered than ever before. Digital photography and the instantaneous way in which we can share anything and everything with friends, family and even strangers has emboldened people to try and project images of themselves that are often far from the truth.
A graduate of the National College of Arts, Lahore (2010) and a resident of Karachi, she feels that this rise in materialism is most palpable in these two large metropolises, and even more so in the former. A sense of entitlement and the need to substantiate your position in society through how many cars you drive and how many houses or property you own can be felt here on a disturbing level when the contrast with those around you is so stark. Everything comes in a package now. Financial security for our children seems to be more important than raising a good person. And this manifests itself in people’s everyday lives, creating a façade and a false sense of identity which Junejo questions through her practice.
Her latest show, ‘Faceless’ has been organized by My Art World and is on display at Aqs Gallery. The exhibition was inaugurated by H. E. Ambassador of Switzerland Marc P. George on Friday, 12th May. In her latest collection, the artist works in oil on canvas and introduces two new elements in her usually monochromatic work. We now see a bit of colour here and there, as well as a bird’s head. I ask her the reason behind these additions to her practice. The bird’s head is a symbol of vanity. Birds hold their heads high and soar majestically above us. Some of Junejo’s new figures have birds’ heads that contain that pride but fail to hold the majesty of a real bird. According to the artist, this is to denote how inhumane humans are – we think we are so precious but actually we are so ugly. The blue or red drapery represents inanimate objects that people give more importance to than themselves. The figures remain ambiguous, genderless and predominantly grey. The artist believes that very little of anything in life can be summarized in black and white – there is a vast grey area and everything is relative. She continues to paint her figures in muted tones of black and white to keep them unadulterated. This is an observation on how society knocks the uniqueness out of us because we are socialized into conforming. There is a great sense of self-importance and ownership, but no accountability. Until around 2014, Junejo’s compositions often contained rotation, reflection, symmetry and repetition. She created geometric forms through her figures that would transcend the body and turn into imagery that seemed to be as far from human anatomy as you could imagine. And she tricked the viewer into thinking that they were seeing double or quadruple. Again, this was with reference to conformity – repetition and losing your own unique voice.
In Junejo’s current solo exhibition, her pieces hold their own and do require a bit of breathing space around them to really take the detail in. However, curatorially speaking, the works were spaced too far apart and in some cases hung too high, preventing her canvases from creating a dialogue within the show. Junejo has a great command over the human figure, and stylises her forms in an effortless way. While I am appreciative of the experimentation in this new body of work, the introduction of colour could be investigated further and the places in which there are missing parts – the illusion of the figure being there without actually being there, could be reworked. The concept is an interesting one, but has already been explored by several other artists, including a few young Pakistani practitioners, and could perhaps be addressed by Junejo in a different way. Since her command over the figure is so strong, I hope to see her push the boundaries of this idea further. As an artist, it’s always difficult to take the plunge and to break free from a tried and tested formula that you know people appreciate. Kudos to the artist for exploring new surfaces, imagery and symbols as well as introducing colour into her work. I get a sense that this is just the beginning and look forward to seeing these new directions develop further, and I am sure that they will. The show will continue through 19th May 2017.
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