Of intimacy and identity

Lali Khalid and Taimur Cleary display their side of the story through art.

Hani Taha March 09, 2011

LAHORE: An art exhibition, portraying the works of a husband and wife, opened at Alhamra Hall on March 4. Lali Khalid, a Fulbright scholar, had to stay back in Pakistan with her American husband Taimur Cleary to fulfill the scholarship’s requirement of serving in the home country for some time after the programme completion. Cleary is back home now and Khalid will soon follow when her term ends this summer.

The couple’s work is so emotive it stirs the deepest recesses of one’s soul and haunts the viewer for hours after. Be it Khalid’s prints or photographs in “The Number” and “The Place 2011” or Cleary’s oil on canvas “With you” (What we take), each piece seems drenched in emotions.

“This is clearly not art that you can buy to match your living room sofas”, said an observer at the exhibition. There’s certainly no better way to describe this work colloquially. There are paintings and photographs that adorn walls in ultra chic homes to add character to a space or at the offices of creative directors at advertising agencies: Khalid and Cleary’s work does not fall into that category. You will not be able to find a ‘place’ for this kind of work unless you can connect to it.

Although both the artists use different mediums to express themselves, their work as a whole is soaked in nostalgia. Even those who do not know who these people are can assess the inherent anxiety and listlessness latent in these images.

“We affect each other’s work constantly,” said Khalid candidly. “It’s all about him and us and the cultural conflict that this relationship embodies.” One of Khalid’s most cherished projects was to photograph South Asian women. “Living in an alien environment like New York City, it was my way to reach out and connect to something familiar that I could relate to. Therefore I have chosen Women’s Day to commence my exhibition which is my way of paying tribute to women,” she said.

Each image is seductive as it lures the viewer into some private domain of the artist’s situation. These are not moments frozen in time as is typical of photographs, instead they are more like movie stills; a slice of life that you will need to rewind or forward. “They are very private moments,” admits Khalid. Yet, despite how squeamish one feels, the images are such  that you keep returning to them, and will look to, for answers, when your own relationship is undergoing struggle.

“Our work is a lot about transformation and change and the constant struggle that a lot of people go through on a daily basis,” explained Khalid. “A lot of people think my work is sad, which is great because my art is able to stir emotion in them,” she said.

But perhaps there is no escaping the self in self-portraits, particularly since the pictures show an introspective view of both artists relationship. Most of her self portraits are actually phototransfers in black and white. But they are actually black and white photography, clarifies Khalid. “I need to see my work in colour first. Although black and white is classic, I am not too fond of it.”

The complexities in the images arise from the dichotomy of who the artists are and their personal situation: a very obviously South Asian woman married to a very obviously American man. Their personalities appear as light and day in the images and their personal conflicts of this specific condition glares at the viewer. They are both searching for something and as Khalid says poignantly: “We are all searching for something on a daily basis. To be satisfied with what you have becomes the end of the quest and of life, I feel.”The exhibition continues till March 17.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 10th, 2011.


Michael Cleary | 10 years ago | Reply Dear Ms. Hani Taha, as the proud father of my Daughter Lali and my Son Taimur you would expect a certain inclination for the work of these talented and committed young people. However, never have I been more emotionally stirred and deeply moved by their work than in considering it’s import and meaning as expressed by you. Thank you for your understanding and astute appreciation. I believe this art is an important part of the larger dialogue of understanding I hope for in our world.
Michael Cleary | 10 years ago | Reply Though I certainly have a vested interest as the artists' work being addressed are my son and daughter I must submit that I am completely and utterly stunned by the deeply emotional and wonderfully stirring observations made by Ms. Hani Taha. Likewise as close as I have been to the work of both artists I am nevertheless so more fully informed and appreciative of what I have been privileged to witness in these two special people. Lastly, I can't help but believe that this art is part of the dialogue of larger understandings. Thank you Lali, Taimur and Ms. Hani Taha.
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