Of cows, trees and archives…

Exhibition at NCA’s Zahoorul Akhlaque Gallery

* Huma Mulji’s work deals with amalgamation between Lahore’s ancient agrarian identity and aspirations of modernisation
* David Alesworth nostalgic work captures pictures of archival record of old vehicles

Text and Photos By Mariam Qureshi

LAHORE: An exhibition of paintings by Huma Mulji and David Alesworth is being held at the Zahoorul Akhlaque Gallery of the National College of Arts (NCA). The exhibition was inaugurated on February 16.

Both artists’ work was contemporary, bordering on the radical.

Amalgamation: Huma Mulji’s work was an amalgamation of the grotesque and the humourous. Her work dealt with the urban development of Lahore and how the city still is a surreal combination of the ancient agrarian society and aspirations of modernisation. The work was a rather humourous take on how Lahore is a city of these two extremes. The cow was the main ‘object’ that was used as a series in all the pictures and the two sculptures she had displayed in the gallery. What made Huma’s work morbid was that she had used real cows stuffed through taxidermy as her sculptures. One cow was projected on an electricity pole, which was bending under the cow’s weight. Another sculpture depicted a cow stuck in a PVC pipe with its head projecting on one end of the pipe and the rest of the body of the cow emerging from the other end. The rest of the work was digital prints with urban and some rural settings with cows placed in odd and unlikely places. In her images, she had taken pictures of these settings and inserted cows in them by using ‘photo-shop’. The cow connoted the typical agrarian Pakistani society.

Huma said, “My work is about the conflict between old and new Lahore. We live in the past and the future at the same time.” She added that, “ People in our local cities like to collect wealth in the form of property and that in turn, turns against you because to safeguard your wealth is an added burden in our commodity hungry society.”

One of the images, titled ‘Pardesi Pride’, which was a digital C-print in black and white, showed how a pair of towers were bending in an ‘M’ shape in front of a pair of cows who posed as onlookers. In another image, cows were seen peeping from a high-rise building still under construction. There was an image in which cows were seen leaping over a lush green field – almost as if they were weightless. In Huma’s work, the cow was the one particular character that added substance, humour, pathos and even abjectness to her entire show.

Huma teaches at the Beaconhouse National University and has graduated from the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture, Karachi.

Nostalgia: David Alesworth work had a reminiscent quality to it. He had taken multiple black and white pictures of archival records of old vehicles. His pictures captured different angles of piles and piles of the neglected archives that he came across in Karachi. The aim of these repetitive pictures was show how man’s efforts become futile. The archives probably connoted man’s efforts to work in a systematic and an organised manner to try and prevent mistakes and loss. Eventually, however, all man’s attempts come to naught. David said, “When I went to this archive I even found my own records.”

The pictures had a very nostalgic quality to them and there was a certain rhythm – as one’s eyes shifted one could fathom how gradually but systematically the archives disintegrated.

Another image showed botanical names of various trees and plants the artist had collected from across the world. The colloquial or local names of the trees were also written. The artist said, “Through the series of these plant tags, I meant to depict a graveyard of nature. The signs with the names are like the epitaphs of graves.”

A huge installation covered the centre of the gallery. It was titled “12.2.42” which was the date when the first nuclear pile was dumped in a tennis court. The edifice was made of 180 steel blocks piled together and it appeared as a colossal structure made to commemorate the time when the mishap first took place. The artist meant to depict how man interferes with Nature.

On the whole, David’s work had a solemn and ominous quality to it.

David Alesworth hails from Wimbledon, UK and is currently teaching at BNU and heads the Fine Arts Department.

Courtesy Daily Times

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