16 - 22 May, 2015

Uzma Sultan and Qadir Jhatial showcase at Koel

An exhibition mounted at the Koel Gallery Karachi, showed the work of two artists whose exciting handling of colours, diverse media and space created dramatic narratives with global symbolism. The two artists are Uzma Sultan, who graduated from the Slade School of Art in 1999 and is currently based in London, while Qadir Jhatial is an artist already attracting attention, a graduate of the National College of Arts, Lahore in 2012 and now lives and works in that city.
Introducing the work to the audience, on the list of artworks shown was appropriately quoted the words of the renowned American artist, Georgia O’Keefe: I found I could say something with colours and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way – things I had no words for.
Uzma Sultan who holds a degree in MFA is well-known in Karachi where she had mounted four earlier exhibitions; the first at the Sadequain Gallery, Frere Hall, Karachi. In the UK her work has been mounted at The Cut Gallery, Waterloo, Whitechapel Project Space and The Mall Galleries, among others and has even exhibited her work in Germany.
Since her first public exhibition, the artist’s use of diverse material has been a significant aspect of her signature style. In 2014, she was an artist-in-residence at Glogauair, Berlin where she worked on a food commercialisation and advertising project, the results of which may be seen in exhibition here for the first time. Previously, one had viewed the artist’s highly decorative series of rooms, combining settings of period traditional furniture with unexpected touches to surprise the audience. In a painting with oil on vinyl Ajrak, Sultan shows full length curtains of ajrak material in the setting of a Victorian furnished room, combining symbols of present and past. An artwork titled English Lace is worked with oil on linen. In other artworks, the artist uses diverse media as surfaces for her work such as aluminum, Perspex and board, as well as canvas. A still life, When in Berlin Spring Flowers, painted with oil on canvas creates the impression of time well-spent, perhaps to be repeated when the artist returns this year to the Loci Loft in Berlin.
In the artist’s change of mood, she looks eastward with a series that touched on abstract expressionism with compositions creating simplified, multiple images of familiar objects in eye-catching colour schemes. Paan Shop, Chilli Saas; Cooking Oil composed of piles of tins, Charpoys viewed from an unusual angle and colourful decorated Buses. Sultan’s most recent exhibition was held in the 2014 Liverpool Independents Biennale, UK. Thematically it appears the artist is concerned with the way that people relate to their surroundings in the present times, often with a satirical edge.
Showing his work with Sultan at Koel, Jhatial is an exciting young artist whose work we have seen with interest in Karachi when contributing to various art events. There is so much suggested in the artist’s work by the movement, merging light and dark colours, people, busy streets and changing moods. One finds the contrast of the activity of frantic traffic and elsewhere the suggestion of a sad figure sitting on the edge of his bed and perhaps not quite ready to face the day.
Jhatial already has a considerable experience of mounting exhibitions to his credit.
In 2013, he participated in an Emerging Artist’s workshop held by the US Embassy at the NCA; and in 2012 showed his work in a two-artist exhibition at the Rohtas Gallery, Islamabad. The artist showed his work in group shows in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi, and earlier this year, his work was mounted in a solo exhibition titled: Streetwise at the Khaas Art Gallery, Islamabad.
The art mounted at the Koel Gallery is worked with enamel on canvas. It is an extremely interesting and thought-provoking experience for an audience as he observes and paints the world around him slightly out of focus. One feels the need to wear the coloured specs as used for third dimensional images in cinemas to discover the artist’s clever essaying of the forms. The artist takes the viewer on a journey of changing moods. On occasions images juxtaposing areas of bright colour appear contained within strong dark contrasts of the surroundings, perhaps a darker aspect of human nature. The style of metamorphosis in the colouration creates numerous suggestions of the observed with the imagined, inviting the viewer’s participation in the scene. It is perhaps too soon for Jhatial to have found a permanent style of expression though he is obviously an artist who will travel far. One waits with interest for future showings of his work.

Colourful murals are popping up across the city, but with strict laws governing street art it is often business that has created the platform for expression

Graffiti is not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Dubai. When you stroll among the desert city’s skyscrapers or drive along its ever-changing roads, there is little street art to be seen, aside from the occasional hastily scrawled musing. But, if you meander down the alleyways of the beachside suburb of Jumeirah, visit the warehouses in the industrial al-Quoz area, Dubai Festival City’s car parks, or the streets of the bustling Karama neighbourhood, you’re likely to come across a scattering of dynamic walls of work.
There are Matisse-esque two-headed green women, playful bows with antlers, and expanses of elegant Arabic calligraphy painstakingly painted over splashes of colour. More surprising than the pieces themselves is that female artists created many of them. Less surprising is that the street art is not a free-for-all but must be confined to approved public spaces.
“It’s really difficult to get a permanent wall in Dubai and any street art on a non-approved wall is removed after a few days,” says Tarsila Schubert, a 27-year-old Brazilian street artist. “There are a few walls with permanent works on them, though.”
Dubai-born street artist Fathima, 31 – who has also painted in the UK and Canada – agrees, but adds that she finds the Emirate’s scene “weird”. She explains, “Street art didn’t start the same way here as it did elsewhere. In most cities, artists took to the streets to claim space and express themselves, but Dubai is a business centre and it was commercialism that created the platforms for street art. So, while it’s technically illegal – you need permission to paint in public – it pops up at events all the time.”
Another artist, Noush Like Sploosh, 31, confirms that while business for street artists is booming because of an “under-saturation of creative skills”, the amount of street art in the traditional sense “is minuscule because there are only a few public walls with work on them due to heavy regulation”.
Knowing how to get permission from the authorities is a grey area. As for close encounters with the law, Steffi Bow, 41, a Londoner who has painted in the UAE for eight years, admits she has managed to charm her way out of sticky situations. However, she says for the most part, “the locals are extremely understanding and hospitable, and pretty interested in ‘the graffities’, as they tend to call it.” – Angela Hundal, The Guardian
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