Notes on the Work
Huma Mulji's work looks at the absurdities of a post-colonial society in transition, taking on board the visual and cultural overlaps of language, image and taste, that create the most fantastic collisions. She describes the time we live in as moving at a remarkable speed and in the context of Pakistan, of 'living 300 years in the past and 30 years in the future all at once'. Her work recognizes the irony of this, formally and conceptually.
Mulji's sculptural works respond to the possibilities of “making” in Pakistan, with materials and forms that often come from another time, are “imported”, “newly discovered” or “re-appropriated”. For example, the work Arabian Delight, is a low-tech taxidermy camel, stuffed in a suitcase. It plays with ideas of travel, transition, import and export of tangible and intangibles, across borders that are visible and sometimes invisible. The camel, forced into the suitcase, looks formally uncomfortable with the arrangement. Examining the relationship between Pakistan and the Gulf States, the manipulated , slow “Arabisation” of the country as an attempt to wipe out a “south Asian” identity, the work approaches this problem from the angle of someone living within it, avoiding didactics, employing humour.
The photographic series Sirf Tum (only you) from 2004 and from 2008, similarly address such absurd collisions. Sirf Tum deals with issues related to intimacy in public spaces. Surveying the frame through the lens, the camera zooms in, becoming the voyeur, awkwardly, confidently, watching and disapproving at once. The protagonists are second hand dolls bought from piles of toys sold around Landa Bazaar in Lahore, incidentally brought into Pakistan with salvation army clothing from another world, leftover from some child’s summer holiday. Already on the Periphery of society, the naked couple is placed in locales that challenge and are challenged by their scale, creating a hyper-real space, a hyper-real narrative, a “plastic” story, convincing and disturbing at the same time. In the 2008 series, the two seemingly interactive narratives engage with each other visually, but don’t really converse. Which of the narratives is real? This also brings into question contemporary media images, and the phenomenon of “photoshop”, where the fine line between truth and untruth becomes a matter of belief.
The new work, taxidermic buffaloes juxtoposed with symbols of urban development, continue to be informed by the absurd and incongruous visual confrontations in a country desiring to be at once the most forward-looking, and unable and unwilling to negotiate its traditional values with the idea of progress.
Heavenly Heights and Her Suburban Dream both attempt to juxtapose these colliding metaphors, to envision this surreal reality. The work avoids easy taking of sides, in imagining a future urban landscape of Pakistan. Sculpturally too, the work underscores the conflict. The suspension of volume and weight, and the pushing of anatomical possibilities to emphasize the tension.