The sheer volume of artists whose works are presented in Lawrie Shabibi Gallery’s group show, “Stop, Play, Pause, Repeat,” makes one feel the need to stop, pause and view again. Eleven young and mid-career artists from Pakistan, the majority of whom are currently working in Lahore or Karachi, are represented in the moderately sized gallery. However, the overall experience is neither cluttered nor overwhelming. The show, curated by Lawrie Shabibi Gallery in collaboration with Nafisa Rizvi of the Karachi-based online magazine Art Now, gives insight into the daily reality of life in Pakistan, while making subtle, yet relevant critiques of contemporary Pakistani society and politics.
The highlight of the exhibition are two intricately detailed works by Adeel uz Zafar that depict bandaged stuffed animals. The artist scratched the black vinyl canvas with knives to create the finely etched white lines of the drawings. I Am Angry & I Mean It (2012) features a nearly eight-foot-tall, frowning plush bear, while Eight Legged Freak (2012), features a smaller, stuffed spider. These hauntingly familiar childhood subjects evoke an air of uncertain discomfort in their bandaged misery. Uz Zafar has chosen these kitsch, plush toys to comment on the growing Westernization in Pakistan where stuffed animals were once alien objects, but are increasingly desired by an upwardly mobile class hankering for symbols of foreign cultural capital.
Even more abrasive in content, is Sara Khan’s mixed-media piece, Hand Over (2012). This beautifully manicured, mannequin’s hand, adorned with jewelry and henna design, is a small monument to someone the artist knew, who, while wearing an ostentatious ring, lost her hand from a thief’s knife. The viewer might pause to reflect on the economic strife and despair that caused someone to commit such a brutal act of theft.
Also taking a cue from the world of commerce, Salman Toor’s oil paintings of happy families and couples are suggestive of the false idealism of lifestyle advertisements. In Aashiana (Home and Hearth) (2012), a mother sits at a desk in the foreground, happily reading to her two daughters. In the background, a fantastical, yet clearly Western style, home is depicted. On the tabletop, where the storybook is laid open, are two miniature figures, an old man sitting wearily and a younger man standing. The younger, presumably working class, man looks up towards the mother and children, as if wishing he could leave the dreariness of everyday life to inhabit their perfect world.
The paper-based works of Seher Naveed and Mahreen Zuberi are the one weak spot in the show. Naveed exhibits paper cutouts on plexiglass that create, through layering, the interiors of colonial-era architecture, while Zuberi’s Untitled (2012) appears like a three-dimensional paper snowflake unfolding from the covers of a book. The technical skill of the works are undeniable, but they literally and proverbially fall flat against the stronger, more visceral pieces on show.
Muhammad Ali and Cyra Ali’s mixed-media installation, Installation Shot (2012), presents a visual feast for the eyes. Installation Shot recreates a small, ornate boudoir that is stylistically suggestive of Southeast Asian Islamic architecture, awash in bright colors and plush textiles. Profusely interspersed throughout the scene are men’s underwear and phallic soft sculptures. The openly homoerotic quality is bold and unexpected from two artists living and working in Pakistan, where homosexuality is a taboo subject. The homoerotic symbols may reference the frustration of the LGBT community in Pakistan, and perhaps even that of the larger Islamic world.
Overall, “Stop, Play, Pause, Repeat” is a strong exhibition that achieves its goal of showcasing a broad spectrum of young artists from Pakistan. The array of mediums used and the artists’ distinctive, often personal examinations on social and cultural issues pertinent to Pakistanis today, lends a heterogeneous perspective on a society that media outlets, particularly Western, continue to wrongly explicate with tired and simplistic war narratives.