Perception versus reality: We all return to our caves

Artist Adil Akhtar believes that the world is what we are made to perceive it.

Minerwa Tahir March 29, 2015
Michigan-based Pakistani artist Adil Akhtar has set his focus on perception, reality and truth in his works on display at the Commune Artist Colony. PHOTOS: COURTESY COMMUNE ARTIST COLONY


Plato’s ‘allegory of the cave’ is the theme of Michigan-based Pakistani artist Adil Akhtar’s solo show on display at the Commune Artist Colony.

While he offers a variety, the artist, who is an oncologist by profession, focuses on reality and how we perceive it. Talking to The Express Tribune, he said: “The world is how we perceive it and how we are made to perceive it.”

The show opened on Saturday and is set to continue till April 8. The artworks hanging on the walls of the dimly lit space present a sombre picture. They emit a feeling of darkness, chaos and disintegration. This effect is greatly achieved with the help of the medium: graphite. The works are mostly dark, with scattered black symbols and images. This untidiness has the desired impact on the viewer: he/she embarks upon the journey that the artist has taken throughout his life. Moreover, the lighting of the space plays an important role in reinforcing the effect.

Akhtar has titled the exhibition ‘E-31’, which is the number of the house he grew up in. This house was situated in the faculty residence of the Karachi University. According to the artist, his life in the house has had a major impact on him and that impact keeps revealing itself in his life as well as his art.

Talking about perception in light of the theory of Plato’s cave, he said that we are all prisoners who, when after a period of incarceration and limited exposure are released into reality, return to our prisons as we ‘cannot take it’. Many of his works seemed to have been built on this notion. For example, the one with the word qaidi (prisoner) inscribed on it or the one showing a lot of eyes peering from behind the bars.

One particular work was very interesting vis-à-vis the cave theory. It depicted an American flag but with an intriguing distortion. The 50 stars of the canton that represent the states of the US were replaced by one large David’s star - an allusion to Israel’s flag.

According to Akhtar, the common perception about the US and Israel in Pakistan is depicted in this particular piece.

Speaking of perception, Akhtar pointed towards the picture of an owl he had drawn. He talked about how, in the West, the owl is a symbol of wisdom and, in our country, is perceived as an insult. Further elaborating on paradoxes, he pointed out how we find contradictions in the same society.

Talking about the general idea behind his body of work, the oncologist stressed on the pursuit of truth. “Everyone is looking for the truth,” he said, pointing towards the large Arabic alphabet ‘alif’ inscribed in one of his works. “I don’t necessarily call it God; it’s the truth. Truth is a fountain from which all the good things flow.”

He spoke about the mural he painted on one of the walls of the commune in terms of this pursuit of truth. “The only way of coming out of today’s Dark Age is through truth,” he said, explaining the different figures on the mural looking up to a golden sun. “That could be your religion or any other thing. You can only come out of the chaos and disintegration by finding the truth.”

Published in The Express Tribune, March 30th, 2015.


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