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By: Editor | 27-12-2012
Total Views:878

Umberto Eco in his essay, “Do Children have Bad Effect on Television” discusses how reality is altered so it can be represented effectively. This phenomenon is not restricted to the electronic media; many other forms and formats of culture and creative expressions also turn into experiments of that sort.

One such exercise was the recently held exhibition Ussman aur Mein (December 13–22, 2012) at the Koel Gallery in Karachi. Artists were asked to work on the pieces left by the late artist Usman Ghouri, or to use his imagery in their work. About 67 artists responded by incorporating his prints and including some of his recurring motifs in their art pieces. Hence emerged a collaboration between two persons, or between two worlds: the realm of the living and the dead. When Ghouri made those works (which remained unfinished due to his untimely demise), he could not have imagined that another individual would be completing what he had initiated.

Artists do work in close relationships and there are many forms of interactions: physical, material, technical, conceptual etc. Sometimes, they paint on a single piece by taking turns; at other times, they make their separate works in response to each other. They can also collaborate by influencing each other through discussion and criticism. But the connection in Ussman aur Mein seems unique since it was a dialogue between life and death.

The motive behind the collaboration was basically to support the family of the departed artist, a significant endeavour since none of our official organisations established for the benefit of the artists performs its duty.

The artists and gallery’s efforts to help one of their colleagues is commendable. Usman Ghouri was a likeable person, an enthusiastic teacher and a hardworking artist, but his status as an artist is yet to be determined; not only Ghouri but every practitioner of art has to go through that test of time. Sometimes, unexpected factors, unforeseen appraisal and hype play a major role in raising the worth of an artist. Mostly, this revisionism is based on the artist’s concepts, method or his response to the surroundings (all of this, in some cases, is understood after that era has gone).

Death, certainly, is not counted among the reasons that promote a minor artist into the league of great names. Death does create a sensation and interest but it is temporary. It cannot impact the standing of an artist for long.

It appears that the interest in Usman Ghouri’s art owes itself to his death. He had studied in Australia, held his shows and taught at the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture but, by and large, his sensibility was that of someone who picks, rearranges, refurbishes and presents. In that sense, he was not alone because many artists begin their career in this manner, till they reach a stage which they can claim to have found their individual, unique voice.

Ussman Ghouri, unfortunately, had yet to attain that level when the angel of death took him away. His work, left at galleries and elsewhere, reflects the artist’s surge to find his own vocabulary but, in order to get to that state, he was relying on a set of typical visuals and techniques. A majority of the artists in the show had to deal with certain motifs such as fish, almond-like shape, dots weaved in tapestry, lines of text on a page and print of a man with naked waist. Many artists tried to extend these images, change them and add other forms to make a balanced visual, linking it with the artist and their own aesthetic practice. One notices how hard it must have been to achieve a perfect or sophisticated synthesis since, in most works, the fish popped up, no matter if it was the sculpture pieces by Abdul Jabbar Gull or mixed media works by Rabia Jalil and likes. Similarly, the half-dressed male appeared in works by Anwar Saeed, Afshar Malik and others, but the merger was not impressive.

Ghouri’s imagery and influence seems hovering over the works of our incredibly interesting artists; while the real task for them was to get away from the shadow of Usman Ghouri and create works which were in response to his imagery but with independence of thought and maturity of formal resolution.

In that sense, only a few works were able to liberate themselves from the burden of duty, and survive independently; for example‘Mistress of Spice’ by Salima Hashmi, ‘The Squares’ by Saba Khan and ‘Look in to Look out’ by Ameen J, works which do have roots in his work, yet do not explicitly declare that link.

In a way, these works prove that artists could always liberate themselves from their prescribed roles and offer something which is not only a service to the dead artist and his family but also to art.

  (courtesy : Jang News)

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