Capturing a lifetime: Son pays tribute to mother via photographs

Artist Abdullah MI Syed tells his mother’s story by photographing her things

Our Correspondent January 05, 2017
Artist Abdullah MI Syed tells his mother’s story by photographing her things. PHOTOS: COURTESY CANVAS GALLERY

KARACHI: A son pays tribute to his mother via photographs he has taken of things she uses everyday in an exhibition titled 'Substitute: The Untold Narrative of a Mother and Son' at Canvas Gallery.

Artist Abdullah MI Syed took photos of his mother's possessions to write her story. "It's more of a personal tale and this tale belongs to my mother," he said.

When Syed left home to study abroad he began to miss his mother and asked her to write him letters. She agreed on the condition that one day he tell her story to the world, hence the tribute.

"My mother had seven children to raise and my father was stationed outside Pakistan. Her life completely revolved around bringing us up and the financial aspect of giving us the very best in life," said Syed. "When I left home, I realised how much I missed her and, like everywhere else in the world, when a child leaves home, he finds comfort in objects to soothe his pain. I started writing to her and, in her letters, she would mention she had cooked my favorite food that day for my siblings," he narrated.

He drew attention to a combination of four photographs where he sees four of his mother's money plants as her four grown-up sons and recalls a time when she would tend to them.

"In her letters, she mentioned once how she would have loved to be an artist but the limitations back in her time did not allow her opt for this profession," he said.

When Syed arrived in Karachi from Australia, where he is currently based, he photographed images of items his mother used on a daily basis, such as a little bedside clock, a box of cotton swabs, inch-tape, broken glasses, books and diaries. These were only a few of the items he could lay his hands on, as his mother would 'freak out' if he tried to access other things in her room. "The drawer and cabinet in her bedroom were the only approachable places," laughed Syed.

"Abdullah's current series is a mother-and-son narrative. He wanted to write his mother's story in her lifetime so he asked her to write a letter about her life. Based on that letter, he built her story in his own narrative," explained Canvas Gallery owner Sameera Raja.

Syed's mother is currently based in Dallas, US, and missed the show's opening in Karachi and in Sydney, Australia. The exhibition at Canvas Gallery continues till January 12.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 6th, 2017.


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