Beyond the obvious: Aakif Suri takes to art to comment on man’s power-greedy instinct

The exhibition, titled 'Part of the Story has not been Told', opened on September 17.

Minerwa Tahir September 17, 2014


Man's ever-growing hunger for power was one of the underlying themes of Aakif Suri's recent works on display at the Sanat Initiative.

The exhibition, titled 'Part of the Story has not been Told', opened on September 17.

Employing the idea of change as a means of exerting authority and capability, the Lahore-based National Academy of Arts graduate builds on the theme of man's hunger for power in 'Inside-Out'. The triptych comprised a skull, a tooth and an egg. All three are naturally white objects, but the artist played with high contrast and transformed them into black images. He used pencil colours and spray paint on wasli paper and also carved onto it for the desired effects.

"We always desire to change the original state of everything, only to exhibit our authority over others," said Suri. "That's one of our ways of exerting power."

Commenting on his series, titled 'Now You See Me', he said that his focus was on the headgear sported by people belonging to different cultures and the jars kept in forensic laboratories.

"I spent 20 years of my life in Dera Ghazi Khan; home to various different cultures of Pakistan," he told The Express Tribune. "However, one thing was common in all cultures: the turbans or their headgear."

He described how every culture places a special significance on headgear that serves as a symbol of their identities.

"The way organs are kept inside jars in forensic labs inspired me," he added. The artist played with his subject and painted heads inside jars using gouache on wasli.

A politically knowledgeable artist

Talking about his work 'I am Fish', Suri explained how the Memogate scandal affected him. He described how, at one point, the issue appeared so important that 'Pakistan seemed to revolve around it'. However, a little while later, it just vanished into thin air and today, we cannot care less about it.

The artist also attempted to comment on how propaganda and agenda-setting techniques are used by the media at times. A closer look at the painting showed a crucifix in the background, on which hung a large fish. Suri appeared to be commenting on how a person is punished by being reflected in a bad light. The fish portrayed former ambassador Husain Haqqani who, in a symbolic sense, was hung on a crucifix for a while.

"Hidden powers are all I wanted to comment on in this work," said Suri, explaining the relation of the artwork with the general title of his show. Azanat Mansoor, a young artist, said that 'I am Fish' was her favourite work. "I have never seen such a big wasli," she said. "The concept is very confronting and unique. I also like the fact that you can't see the crucifix easily."

"I can see the sensibility of miniature aesthetics in these works," said another artist, Naveed Sadiq. He appreciated how well Suri had used the technique of 'pardakht', which is the rendering of colour and details in miniature painting, in all of his works.

The exhibition will run till October 8.

Drawing without the eye

The artist embarked upon a unique journey while creating another one of his series, titled ‘Wishful’.

“I closed my eyes while drawing them and let my hand move according to the images in my mind,” said Suri. “I wanted to explore how it would be like to eliminate the drawing-while-looking element.”

This series perhaps best suits the general title of the exhibition. The works are mysterious and ambiguous. The scorpion in one of the works did not have definite features. It was an outline which showed only its tail and claws. The placement of a royal turban and the pattern on the tail, depicting the spades suit of cards, was quite intriguing. A closer look showed a murky image of a chair carved into the wasli paper. The picture seemed to comment on the scorpion-like, relentless qualities of an emperor, with the chair, turban and spades suit serving as symbols of power.

The other picture in the series, depicting a large ant, seemed to complement the others. The crown on the ant’s sting appeared to express gain of power for someone may be the cause of pain for others. It was a blatant remark on man’s instinct to gain power at the expense of others.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 18th, 2014.


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