Echoes of expressionism reverberate in late artist Laila Shahzada’s works, particularly in the one that depicts a part of her own life.
‘Mother and child’ was a very sensitive work. It is a reflection of the artist’s pain that she suffered from after being separated from her daughter, Shahien.
“She had a son and a daughter when she was separated from her first husband,” said curator Soraya Sikander. “She got to keep the son and her husband had the daughter. She remarried and had another son but the vacuum of her daughter could never be filled.”
Smooth strokes and subtle blending of colours are the most prominent features of her works on display at the Unicorn gallery. Adding a sculptural quality to oil-on-canvas paintings is what Shahzada seemed to be a master at.
The gallery is honouring the Pakistani modern artist by showcasing an exhibition of her works throughout December to mark her 20th death anniversary. Interestingly, the works are not for sale and have been given to the gallery for public viewing by avid art collectors.
“This is a very lucrative season to sell paintings and we could have had another show,” said Sikander. “But we are paying a tribute to the artist.”
Pointing towards an untitled oil-on-jute work, Sikander compared Shahzada’s technique to that of renowned late artist Sadequain. “The way she has painted is similar to the way Sadequain did. These artists used to paint without drawing and created forms out of calligraphy.”
This technique recurred in another work, titled ‘Skardu and Red Tree’. The perspective is mesmerising and the viewer is left to ponder over the form. The tension created with the use of colours and light is striking.
Colours played an important role in her works. The artist played with tones of green and brown in her oil on canvas painting, titled ‘Landscape’, which is owned by art critic Marjorie Husain. The details were fine yet subtle, with the balance of colours contributing to the subtlety. In short, the painting depicts a serene scene and the effect is brought about with the skilful mixture of colours.
Sikander explained how Shahzada created this masterpiece when she went with her friend, Husain, for ‘girl time’ to the northern areas. “The two went up north away from their husbands and children to bond. It was a time when Pakistan was much safer and women could travel like that.”
The artist has added a sculptural touch to her paintings, and remarkably so. Be it the Mohenjo Daro figurines like that of the dancing girl or the 50-year-old portrait of her sister, the viewer is left amazed at the three-dimensional perspective added to the works. “She was rich in observation and imagination,” said Sikander. “She knew what to paint and was skilled at doing so.”
Moreover, her works are a representation of both Eastern and Western elements. Her signature shows her love and appreciation of the diversity of cultures. “Perhaps, she is the only artist who signed in both English and Urdu,” said the curator.
The show will run till December 31.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 27th, 2014.