Ancestral memories: Unveiling the softer side of wild ‘West’

Artist Murad Khan Mumtaz depicts post-colonial landscapes and history of loss

Our Correspondent September 22, 2016
Using natural medium on wasli, print, multi-plate etching with hand colouring, artist Murad Khan Mumtaz gives the audience a glimpse into the lives of Native Americans. PHOTOS: COURTESY KOEL GALLERY

KARACHI: "We eat the white man's food, and it makes us soft; we wear the white man's heavy clothing and it makes us weak…. Yes - we know that when you come we die."

The quote by Chiparopai, an old Yuma woman, mentioned in the statement of Koel Gallery's latest exhibition, titled 'West', sums up the concept behind the work being showcased.

Artist Murad Khan Mumtaz, who belongs to Lahore but is currently based in Virginia, takes keen interest in the lives of Native Americans. "The work subtly contemplates on the disrupted way of life of the Plains Indians, calling to mind other post-colonial landscapes and histories of loss," reads the exhibition statement.

"For the last eight years, I have been travelling in the United States and did a couple of artist residencies in New Mexico," he says while explaining his inspirations.

“A trip to Idaho, Wyoming and Montana inspired me to work on this series,” he said.

"Essentially that part (Native Americans) was killed in genocide," he said about the concept. However, upon his visit to these areas, he said, he found this landscape truly beautiful.

Using the medium of opaque watercolour and natural medium on wasli, print, multi-plate etching with hand colouring, the artist gives the audience a glimpse into the lives of Native Americans.

In his pieces, titled 'In the Cave', 'The Gathering' and 'Khalwah', he depicts caves using the imagery of hands in deep prayers. Tipis remain a recurring image in his works. 'Vigil' depicts a tepee covered in moonlight while 'Crazy Men in Summer Night' showcases the beautiful landscape in which three tipis are present.

Besides using traditional natural pigments such as sindoor and indigo, the work is also heavily influenced by Pahari technique, which Mumtaz claims to have been using for the last four years. "The Pahari miniature art was patronised by nobility in [British] India," he says. "But now, the contemporary art form has taken over and the technique has died out. I am trying to rebuild it once again."

The owner of the gallery, Noorjehan Bilgrami, said that the works touched her heart. "He has used traditional natural pigments and his hands are so skilled," she says. "Craftsmanship requires detailing and intricacy to the core to bring such a collection on the floor."

The show will continue till October 6.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 23rd, 2016.



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