It is my understanding that his art is an innate expression deeply embedded in his personal experience as an illustrator, which flows out from the tip of his carving tools. Having spent a significant amount of time creating characters for children’s story books, Zafar now wraps and conceals children’s stuffed animals in gauze and bandage to recreate them on plastic vinyl, a household material in Pakistan.
Zafar relates his practice to the work of Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, who is known for incorporating motifs and icons from popular culture into his work, as well as Yoshimoto Nara, whose artworks are all about contradictory and deceptive characters. This is true for Zafar’s work as well. Even though he uses popular icons meant to entertain children, the gauze subdues their natural exuberance, reincarnating them in a darker context. As in reality and in fiction, Zafar makes good characters and bad characters. This is confirmed by insightful titles such as Protagonist 1/Mickey and Antagonist 2/Demon.
Even though the silhouettes of most toys are immediately recognizable, each character is treated with great consideration. Zafar is not one to overexplain his conceptual trajectory; he chooses to keep it open to interpretation, thus building global appeal for his art. However, the process of wrapping plays a key role in determining the political message in each character.
In Protagonist 2/Kong, Zafar has used a popular King Kong toy, an icon loaded with meaning, and wrapped it so that Kong’s face is exposed, allowing it to be identified. Referencing the 1960s version of King Kong, Zafar has attempted to address a multitude of global dilemmas with this piece. As King Kong represented a marginalized, misunderstood “other” in society, Zafar explains that this piece highlights the plight of Muslims the world over. He feels that it is also relatable for the African-American community in the States.
Iconic children’s toys highlight the effects of popular Western culture and how it is invading local indigenous cultures outside Western territory. Zafar believes this invasion is homogenizing experience. And this is where his work gets contradictory – getting back to the classification of good and bad characters, Protagonist 1/Mickey is at once a protagonist i.e. a good guy, as well as an invader of cultures.
Bearing in mind his subject matter, lurking in the visuals of the bandaged toys is an unsettling glimmer as Zafar changes their original context using his patent subtractive method i.e. scratching and scraping. Even though they are recognizable as children’s toys, the fact that they are bandaged and shrouded, lends them a darker, more abject feel. Whether or not they are reflections of a struggling society or people is not overtly highlighted; instead it is left up to the imagination of his audience.
The evolution of Zafar’s ‘characters’ from distinguishable popular children’s toys towards unidentifiable mutant forms is all too dark. The pieces Drawing Appendage 3 amultilimbed wrapped centipede monster of sorts) and Mutation 1 and Mutation 2 exemplify a slow morphing of Zafar’s visuals. As monumental mutant forms emerge on darkened surfaces, a resemblance to molecules lost in space can be sensed, suggesting a basis and need for (renewed) development.
On a more technical note, Zafar quite enjoys the emergence of form in each of his drawings. It may be best to mention his painstaking process of creation here. Working with a variety of tools to achieve tonal quality, Zafar manages to create sensitivity or opacity in line by altering pressure. Zafar’s skill is unquestionable, yet it is still growing and evolving with each new body of work. His work, with its repetitive process and dark undertones, seems to be a labour of love, as it is impossible to create these mammoth pieces without persistence and patience.
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