Monochrome matters: As simple as black and white

Artist Syed Hassan Mujtaba highlights how schools kill individuality


Our Correspondent September 24, 2016
Portraits of doe-eyed children not only highlight conformity but also function as reflection for adults whose dreams are shattered by the society. PHOTOS: COURTESY SANAT GALLERY

KARACHI: Artist Syed Hassan Mujtaba plays with monochromic abilities to depict the impact of homogenous practices on individuality in his latest exhibition at Sanat Gallery, titled 'A Monochrome Episode'.

"The mechanical homogeneity of participants in a congregation or the performance of pilgrims, indicate that religion [and] socio-political and cultural conditioning design us to adjust and perform in a society with both, individual and collective responses," he writes in his artist's statement. Using the medium of charcoal and lead on paper, Mujtaba depicts the pressure on school-going children to conform to societal standards, which often leads to the systematic killing of their individuality.

The portraits of different doe-eyed boys and girls in their school uniforms not only highlights the pressure on them to conform but also function as reflection for adults whose hopes and dreams are shattered by society. In 'Uniform Games', the artist portrays four school boys standing in a straight line with their hands and backs in front of the audience. One of them is seen hiding a ball in his hands. The image stems from nostalgia but also subtly highlights the strictness in schools that forbid extracurricular activities for students.

Talking about his inspiration, Mujtaba said that he has been observing the behaviour of school-going children since 2009, when he was completing his thesis at Beaconhouse National University. "I observed the children from [closely] while visiting schools at three varied locations within the walled city of Lahore," he said. "It was here from school assembly to the classroom, I detected their structure and behaviour, which I have tried capturing even here in this collection."

The idea is conceptualised using black-and-white effect, which highlights the seriousness of the issue and leaves a lasting impact on the viewers. Talking about the mediums used, he said it plays an integral role and takes people away from the colourful world. Mujtaba also delves into his spiritual side with his piece, titled 'Lord, I am here'.

"In relation to one another, each piece speaks a language of either a collective approach or searches for the intimate reality," asserted Mujtaba.

Giving credence to Mujtaba's work, Abid Merchant, the owner of Sanat Gallery, said, "In his current body of work, you see busts of children beautifully worked upon in graphite and lead, a medium that Mujtaba has mastered."

According to Merchant, the most stunning pieces are 'Lord, I am here', a drawing depicting the pilgrims, in which Mujtaba has used chalk in addition to graphite and lead to create the texture, and 'Inertia III'. "Both the works give an abstract feel when viewed from a distance," he said. "However, as you move nearer you notice that they are not abstract but figurative."

The show will continue till September 30.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 25th, 2016.

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