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Exhibition : Using the Islamic screen as a mediating device

Exhibition : Using the Islamic screen as a mediating device

The marvel of abstract art is that what appears non-specific and mutable to the uninitiated viewer is often a feat of considerable thought and laborious application. Recently shown at the Canvas Gallery in Karachi “The Green Room” exhibition by Nazia Ejaz is yet another collection of abstract artworks that gain new dimensions when examined beyond their apparent surface appeal.

Hailing from Lahore, Ejaz a 1992 National College of Art graduate acquired an MFA from Slade School of Art, UK, in 1996 followed by a Graduate Diploma in Indian Art History from the School of Asian and African Studies. Residing in Adelaide Australia, since 2005 she has worked as a painter, printmaker and teacher in the UK, Australia and Pakistan. Recently, in 2016 she completed another degree — a master’s in Visual Art and Creative Practice from the University of South Australia.

Previously articulating through semi-literal and stylised expressions, Ejaz has opted for a wholly abstract modality in “The Green Room” show. As a contemporary artist no longer rooted to her country of origin she now visualises her art in the light of her new spatial realities located in a changing cultural landscape of identities, values and beliefs. A passionate play with material and method is the other defining feature of her work. Fueled by feelings of fragmentation, her art concepts voice a loss of belonging while her varied and enthusiastic embrace of Western art media techniques — old and new — record her ongoing engagement and integration with the environment of her adopted country.

To highlight issues of connection and separation in an East / West context Ejaz makes subtle and obvious use of the Islamic Jaali or screen as a metaphor in “The Green Room.” Characteristic of Indo-Islamic architecture jali or jaali, — perforated stone screens with regularly repeating patterns — function as windows or room-dividers, providing privacy but allowing in air and light. In Western art the ‘window’ metaphor has a long history too. Its artistic representation in terms of surfaces and openings has always been perceived as a mediator between spaces.

In “The Green Room” exhibit it is the jaali / screen grid and geometric patterns which have been modified by Ejaz to address concerns of social and cultural displacement. Two abstract paintings, ‘All that Glitters’ and ‘Flick of a Moment’, are composed of multiple small windows whose flickering chromatics create an attractive tapestry of several hues. On a deeper level, the fluctuating colours indicate a wavering sensibility still negotiating between here and there. The fractured or divided self is given further definition in the ‘Archive of Longing’ canvas where Ejaz, mimicking Bridget Riley’s Optical Art mannerism of creating mutable illusionistic spaces, paints a vertical grid with shifting spaces.

Recasting Eastern heritage into a Western mould the artist fabricates the jewel-like brilliance of the Mughal miniature through a new synthesis. Applying UV dried ink on laser-cut acrylic glass she constructs a transparent glittering mosaic of jaali-inspired patterns in the ‘Mirror Mirror on the Wall’ series of art objects. Her profuse use of gold is also reminiscent of the act of flecking or gilding miniatures with gold leaf but her rudimentary, formless applications reveal Ejaz’s comfort level with Western abstraction.

In the current multicultural atmosphere contemporary artists are continually negotiating between local and global. Fusion is the name of the game. What needs to be seen is how artists approach the notion of belonging within contexts of other cultures without losing a sense of balance. This is a personal struggle and by no means an easy one. Painting one’s diaspora also implies a coming to terms with one’s own experiences. There is no political, cultural or geographic specificity in Ejaz’s work. An abstract approach provides her the space and freedom to experiment with media, which is her real calling. Her art stands on its decorative and ornamental appearance. The onus is on the viewer to explore the art and artist if he / she so desires to understand the sentiments underscoring the décor.

­— “The Green Room” exhibition was held at the Canvas Gallery in Karachi from January 17th to January 26, 2017

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, January 29th , 2017

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