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The ephemeral

Sindhi Artist Mussarat Mirza’s work, much like her life, reflects a resilience of the vagaries that life enfolds

By Asma Ahmad |
PUBLISHED September 11, 2022
KARACHI:

The shadows coalesce, layer upon layer, warm in their darkening hues, contouring and shaping a mauve presence with darker tones of earth. They shape the landscape, a personal and intimate view, quiet as their solid presence testifies to the lives that they hold - a strong presence.

Mussarat Mirza’s canvases take shape from their shadows, permeable breathing shadows that seem to testify to a living presence to a process, a continuity. The shadows soft, dark, layer together but separated with suffused light stringently entering from a vantage point. Mussarat Mirza’s canvases are not landscapes but lived experiences.

Devoid of people, the landscape she paints is an internal testimony to an external reality. She is from Sukkur, Sindh and continues to live and paint from there. Suffused with light, suspended with dust, the interior of a room, an alley between mud walled abodes, a narrow flight of forgotten stairs, a silent hallway, a corridor, the distant top of mud-covered rooftops. Her work is a testament to the deep relationship to the land, a land not portrayed in her work but embodied in it, in the relationship she has with her work. A deep, abiding connection that defies the material, yet firmly rooted in it.

The consummate beauty of her work is registered by the inner eye, the tangibility of the physical presence that holds the ephemeral. The awe, the respect and grandeur of creation suspended in the breath that stays suspended in her canvas that invites in to their mystery, silence and warmth.

Mussarat Mirza has eschewed the mainstream art world, preferring to teach at the University of Sindh Jamshoro and living in Sukkur. An experience of living close to land, to a way of life that still maintains a link to land for its sustenance, where the diurnal rhythm of life holds sway, the cyclical nature permeates the rhythm of life, where the ebb and flow of life is accepted with patience and surrender at a greater mystery that unfolds over the land that holds the bounty and earnings of people in its’ grasp. A humility born out of the close proximity to a land with a power to bestow bounty or withhold, a witnessing to a much greater power, as old as time, ungovernable and untamed by man.

It is this acceptance, this surrender that finds place in her work. The lack of definition, but in its’ stead a strong presence, the layered shadows showcase space and the sparse light a beacon. It is as though the mystery of life remains in the shadows, the shifting light revealing some and hiding some, yet the light always remains a beacon, just out of reach.

The spaces and structures she contours out of her mauves and earth tones are gentle yet with a solid presence. As witnesses to a continuity of life, to the unfolding. Raised by a father interested in the arts, he nurtured and encouraged Mussarat Mirza’s inclination and gift of painting. And as one generation gives way to the next, the faith that nurtured her gift unfolds in her paintings. It unfolds as the strong unseen presence that holds faith in the unseen. Potential is always a promise, a gamble, a bud waiting to bloom, it is only faith that lends it the sustenance and nurturing it needs. A gift carried from an inception in one generation to a culmination in the next. This strong sense of presence, this faith in an inner awakening, an inner beacon is palpable in her work. The walls, the corridors and stairs that strong presence that holds place for the unfolding of life and its processes, the slow painstaking process that sees the sowing of seed to its growth and fruition.

 

Her canvases unfold, much like the light that governs the diurnal cycle of life. As night gives way to light, the slow seeping of light across the dark depths of night as slowly the darkness is brightened by light. And as the day gathers force and the daylight reaches its’ zenith a blinding midday light that holds everything in it’s sway, the shade and shadow of structures a welcome refuge. For a while, before it starts slipping over the meridian and the shadows begin to lengthen. It is this light that Mussarat Mirza has an intimate relationship with, painting it with an effortlessness that belies the sensitivity that evokes this quality on her canvases . The body of work on display at the Koel Gallery covers an almost five decade from 1968 to 2021, and the canvases display the same deep, mysterious evocative quality. Yet the deceptive simplicity of the diurnal cycle, requires a witnessing, of a reality that beckons an understanding, a resilience of the vagaries that life enfolds. An understanding which then allows trust, a faith in life, a community, a closeness, a link to all its’ parts.

There are few artists who can engage the viewer with such depth, that the viewer is entranced in the exploration of the alley ways as a physical exploration and as a communion with the ephemeral quality of the land that the artist imbues in her work, a quality of universal values that hold sway in their gentle permanence, much like the light that the artist uses effortlessly to craft as a metaphor and as a beguiling beacon.

Har Ja Tu; In the Realm of Light, A retrospective of Mussarat Mirza’s paintings 1968 to 2021, curated by Maha Malik at the Koel Gallery August 27 to September 27, 2022.