One foot in the past,other in the present

KARACHI: When people attempt to revisit their past, they often come across aspects which are novel in their own right. Titled ‘The Past as Present’, the show which opened on Thursday evening at Gandhara-Art Gallery features works of four artists exploring such aspects.

Starting off with Veera Rustomji’s ‘Conqueror Series’ levitating in the air, the metal casts with hand painted monuments hinted at the dynasties and ruling classes in the world history. “Those metal structures are original head measurements on which the hats were built upon. There are images of the Great Wall of China, Buckingham Palace among others,” said Veera.

Farther away from the metal casts, Veera’s two other installations were also linked to the first one. A video ‘Men Doing Manly Things’ showed some Parsi men engaged in various activities like playing snooker, washing their cars, and eating Dhansak – a Parsi cuisine known for its nutritional value.

Alongside the video, lie a few boxes under the title ‘Pheta Na Dubao (Boxes for Phetas)’ Veera explained that those were the original boxes which carried the phetas or hats worn by the men in her community during colonial times.

“It goes well with the video, and hats are considered as accessories especially to show prominence and stature in society. There are portraits of Parsi men wearing these hats because they come from well-known families; it’s only a comment on the inequality of resources given to men and women even in the most elitist of societies,” she said. “I feel it’s a relic of a colonial past, be it the British or the Romans or the Chinese, where all aspirations to acquire education or expand business are set for men. It doesn’t matter how educated the family is, there is always discrepancy when it comes to genders,” she added.

Ghulam Mohammad had worked on Urdu scripts by cutting out words in an intricate manner. The scripts alluded to the events that occurred during the British Raj. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s work on men who are into weight-lifting or exercise had an Urdu guide explaining the steps to do the tasks like ‘Is Tang Ko’ and ‘Qenchi Ki Shakal’, except all had an essence of what is dubbed as feminine under patriarchal norms.

Curator Aziz Sohail said that all four artists came from different spaces and saw their work through an archival view. “Veera is looking at Parsi history and her work is a social commentary on the gender divide. Ghulam Mohammad is exploring the Urdu language, while Bhutto’s work juxtaposes the ‘masculinity’ of a body builder with femininity, so it is exploring the past in an unusual light,” he said. Speaking about

‘The Birds Are Coming’ by Moonis Ahmad, he said the images were of fictional birds and focus on how we associate birds with national values. “At the same time we also believe in the concept of how birds are beyond borders. They are playing with the concept of nationhood here because many a time we put birds in different categories,” Sohail said.

Published on The News