Article in Dawn Gallery


Two weeks by the sea: By Marjorie Hussain


A workshop at the beach brings together a group of twenty-eight artists from fourteen countries including Pakistan, with the objective of creating paintings, sculpture and installation, unhindered by the city’s clamour.


With the Arabian Sea as the serene backdrop, an international workshop spreading over a fortnight was arranged earlier this month by Vasl, an artists initiative linked to the Triangle Arts Trust, UK. Twenty eight artists — for an uninterrupted period of time — gave their creative best at the Gadani Rest house, about 40 miles from Karachi, across the Hub river. Absorbing the impressive landscape, artists from different countries and cultures interacted with their surroundings and with each other. The artists varied in age and experience comprising a happy mix of people and as one young artist said: “Initially I felt rather nervous in the presence of such well known artists as these are people whose work we see in galleries, but they are a marvelous group and very interactive.”

By all accounts it was a very positive experience. On an unscheduled visit to the workshop, I came across the artists absorbed in their work, spontaneously putting found objects together and creating exciting possibilities. Masooma Syed, who teaches Jewelry Design at the Beacon House University, Lahore, was surrounded by paint and miscellaneous objects while creating an exotic feathered form. We spoke of the artists involved in the workshop, sculptor Alak Roy from Bangladesh working on ‘eyes and ‘fingers. Beate Terfloth, who captured the sea and rocks in magnificent photographs, was working in the darkroom, and for the first time in the Vasl activities, a Russian artist, Andrei Rudyev attended the workshop. I find similarities more between artists, even though they are coming from different countries, said Masooma. We are people from the same ‘trade. There are so many common issues related to work; the anxiety, the excitement, the ups and downs, and how different artists deal with things. There are people of different levels of experience, but that is not an issue. Salima Hashmi is here and very cooperative, and Christina Mackie is a textile based sculptor, very well known in the UK. One can enjoy talking to someone each day, talk about anythingto anyone. It is stimulating that so many people from different environments are accessible to you; there is curiosity and it is very interesting.

Moeen Faruqui was fascinated by the geometric variations of the rocks rising out of the water and was endeavoring to capture his impression on canvas. He described the workshop as a great learning experience and told of Andrei, who coming from winter in Russia, loved the weather and jumping into the sea each morning, despite warnings of jelly fish.

Andrei Rudyev, who was working on his installation outdoors while enjoying the sun, had studied at the State Academy of Cinematography, department of Film Design Moscow, has a Diploma in Theatre Design and took his Bachelors Degree in Monumental painting in 1993. A few days earlier he had shown a video film of his work at the V.M.Gallery, including a project for the Festival of Contemporary Art in Traditional Museums, 2005, where he had placed an installation of penguins on the Arctic and Antarctic Museum. At Gadani he was putting together a very interesting piece of work on the upper balcony of the rest house, combining sculpture and installation, (though I dont often do sculpture, usually I paint). When I asked him about the penguins placed over the roof of the museum, he reported that several had disappeared overnight. Andrei was fascinated by one of the rocks directly in front of us, When I saw the rock, I noticed it moving. If you walk away the rock starts to move and your vision changes, when you start something, everything starts.

A well known sculptor working with textiles, Christina Mackie from the UK was creating a model of a little hut that she pointed out in the distance. She had collected the different coloured sand from the nearby hills - lavender, yellow and rose- and spread the sand on rocks close to the gazebo where one spotted artists working industrially. Talking about her work in England Christina explained: Im trained as a painter and still think of myself as a painter because I make all the elements separately. I dont usually use any glue, all the fixing elements are also separate elements and are separated into piles, so its like a painting assembled into space. My work is sculpture but not solid or permanent, only there for a moment.

Currently her work is on tour in a British Art Show. More of her work is required for exhibition and Christina is giving it some thought. I enjoy time to develop new ideas and dont want to be too busy. This is a perfect time for me, London is wonderful but there are so many day to day small things to be dealt with. Here (Gadani) we dont have to worry about food or anything, and I hope one day I can come back. Ive heard from Jamil about the work in landscape painting in Pakistan, there are some good artists here and amazing things are happening. One finds the right type of competitiveness, not competing for gain but spurred on by each other. Its great for local artists to inform each other. We will all exchange discs of our work, and when we get back to our homes, well show them and spread the work.

All the artists I spoke to related how they enjoyed the evening sessions, when in a totally informal, relaxed atmosphere, two artists each night made presentations describing and discussing their work. It appeared that all the artists found these sessions to be very informative and absorbing. Outside the rest house, I came across Elmas Deniz from Turkey, who graduated in Fine Arts, Painting, 2003, quietly working with needle and thread, creating an exotic bird on a white cloth. Jamil Baloch pointed out his ‘scarecrows dotting the hills, part of a performance he put on during the opening event. Looking at these forms a verse from Eliots ‘Hollow Men came to mind: ‘We are the stuffed men, leaning together. Headpiece stuffed with straw. Alas.

Jamil showed a number of fine, textured drawings and a superbly drawn portrait of Richard Kimathi of Kenya. Richard was busy working on paintings that seemed to absorb the brightness of the sun and the surroundings. There were excellent examples of drawing being worked on with pencil ink and charcoal. Nasser Ahmed, who teaches at the Karachi School of Art, was looking extremely relaxed while working on some very striking images intended for a triptych, and Saira Shaikh from Lahore, created soft drape effects on a white background. Bassel Al Saadi from Syria was initially slightly disappointed at not finding large metal sheets to work on. His work in this media, resembling panels and dividing doors, has been shown in many countries on exhibition, but he adapted his mood to the material available and worked with concentration.

Entang Wiharso from Indonesia, had taken his art degree in Indonesia in 94, and subsequently attended art residencies in the States and at the Gallerie Tangente in Liechtenstein. At the VM Gallery in Karachi, he showed some of his work from exhibitions consisting of multi media installations, including, ‘Beyond Space from the Venice Biennale in 2005. Another powerful installation was titled: I Love you too much. At Gadani he worked on colourful portraits incorporating the changing colours of the sea and the skies.

Pradeep Chandrasi from Srilanka is an artist who, though busy with projects for exhibition, finds time to be involved with theatre. With a group of friends known from art school days who stage serious plays for the people, Pradeep creates the sets. He showed an example in the work he was making, chairs with stone and rusty nail seat coverings, and matching ‘tables, created from odds and ends.

The distinguished film maker and artist Navjot Altaf from Delhi had shown one of her films to a spellbound audience at the VM Gallery, and spoke of future exciting projects ahead. At Gadani, she portrayed the reactions of her fellow artists to one of the large pink rocks, creating a montage of visuals on a white paper background. Awenna Cozannet from France worked industrially on a mass of varying pink threads. These combined to create a costume that covered her from head to toe. Planning to wear the creation for a Performance on the open day, Awenna titled her costume: Nude from within. In the same workroom, Samuel Hsuan-Yu Shih from Taiwan, worked on organic looking shapes that he neatly presented laid out on a table. The artist who has an impressive record of art study, prizes and exhibitions, works in mixed media, ceramics, glass, and metal. Fortunately Hsuan-Yu Shih, is staying on in Karachi for a further workshop at the VM Gallery, so one may enjoy more of his creations.

Hani Akram from Jordon, was engaged in a lively still-life composition, tea-jugs using painted metal models. Hani who qualified in painting, sculpture and graphic printing, is the Supervisor of the Jordanian National Museum Graphic Schooling Center. I passed Salima Hashmis workplace and enjoyed her work in process on the easel. A colleague of Salimas, Beate Terfloth from Germany, is an artist with her studio in Berlin. No stranger to Pakistan, Beate, who recently showed her work at the Goethe Institut, Karachi with Hamra Abbas, had a few years ago taught at N.C.A., Lahore. Outside she was working on a delicate mural drawing, and had painted the water-heaters yellow. Seeing them through the eyes of Beate, the yellow forms became baby Hippos.

Mohammad Zeeshan, who teaches at the NCA, and Hunnerkada, Lahore, related how he had lost his portfolio at the airport. I lost my materials for miniatures and discovered bubble wrap and pins, and started to work on a satire, making images of safety pins by joining the pins together, and using text. Its good I lost my portfolio, I started working differently. Its great to work with no diversions, quite a far from the city. Hamra Abbas, visiting from Germany was busy with her camera. Auj Khan had set up a large ‘fish made of red painted chapels; Sheherbano Hussain had a collection of ‘hearts she was preparing for a small stage setting. At that time she was working out how to space written verse over the hearts. Mahreen Zuberi was working on a grid design over the stairs. Each of the artists were engrossed in their pieces, preparing for the ‘Open Day, the last day of the workshop that was to be enjoyed by over one thousand visitors, artists, friends, art enthusiasts and students who arrived in a caravan of buses. It was a momentous occasion, because with all the ups and downs of living in the city, Karachiites really know how to enjoy themselves.


Article in The News International


An art that nature makes

Nature's aesthetic presence posed a challenge to human artmaking at the 2nd Vasl International Artists' Workshop in Karachi.


By Quddus Mirza


Approaching the Gadani beach in Karachi, the first thing you notice is a large, pink and strangely formed rock. It stands in the middle of the water and looks like some sort of prehistoric fossilised animal. Its surface, colours and contours are so unusual that one is unable to move one's eye and mind away from this incredible work of nature. The huge stone is surrounded by other rocks and cliffs, all of which amaze a visitor by the diversity of their shapes, texture and tones. The whole visual experience is accentuated by the constant sound of waves, and the perpetual movement of the sea.

This was the setting for the 2nd Vasl International Artists' Workshop, held from 9th to 25th February 2006, in which 24 artists from Pakistan and other countries took part. These artists stayed and worked at Gadani, attracting a large number of viewers on the last day of the workshop.

For viewers and artists alike, the picturesque environment of Gadani probabaly posed the question how one can create or enjoy 'man made' objects of art in the presence of such a powerful visual experience of nature. It was as challenging for the artists to create art as it was difficult for the spectators to concentrate only on it; they spent most of that day on the beach, enjoying the great view of the Arabian Sea.

Not particularly at that site, but generally any efforts to fabricate visual objects seems difficult, futile and tiresome in comparison to what is offered by nature. Yet history is filled with human creations which did not parallel but certainly responsed to the beauty of nature. To some extent this phenomenon was also witnessed at the Vasl workshop: a number of artists responded to their surroundings and made works which were connected to nature in more than one way.

The most prominent response was the work of Navjot Altaf, an Indian artist. She asked all the participants how they would like to interact with the pink rock. Each artist imagined a different situation. One suggested that he will approach the rock as a gladiator, another wished to make a bridge across it. Another artist saw it as the venue of her forthcoming exhibition, while for a male artist it was part of a swollen pregnant belly. Someone wished to touch it softly, and another saw it as water to jump in. Navjot visualised each possibility and created all these images and actions on a white sheet of paper, with the rock in its middle. She combined all these computer-generated prints and displayed it as one work. By doing this, she voiced the elementary and immediate feeling of every visitor who saw the rock and tried to touch it, physically or mentally. Altaf added two policemen on the top corners of each section. These small figures portrayed the unavoidable presence of security guards in that area. The work also indicated the current situation, in which uniformed men have become an indispensable part of our world.

Navjot's work shows simplicity of expression, clarity of thought and maturity of approach, but more than that, it presents an example of how an artist can react to her environment. Altaf, instead of indulging in the laborious act of collecting odd materials, or in pretentious exercises of manufacturing pieces based upon local art practices, chose a separate route. She has done so without even bothering about the content and context. She has absorbed the immediate reality and transformed it into a concept. Her work, though linked to the specific site of its production, was not about it in a literal sense.

Hamra Abbas (an artist from Pakistan but currently living in Berlin) seemed to share the same sensibility. In her short video animation, titled 'Left Right', she selected images from her surroundings but transformed these into a wider and common experience. The video contained pictures of a soldier carrying a gun. The same figure was repeated in many frames, and in several frames the figure appeared more than once. The background of the soldier kept on changing from fields and mountains to sea and sky with clouds and a portion of an aeroplane. The figure of the soldier was inserted from one side to the other in the video, so giving an illusion of movement enhanced by the accompanying sound of a constant beat.

The element which transformed Abbas's work from an ordinary documentation of reality to a work of art, was the introduction of bars in front of these gun-holding men. The bars, cut from the background of sea, fields and clouds, were superimposed on the moving figures. Derived from impressions of Gadani -- of land, water and sky, and policemen scattered all over -- these works alluded to the institution of power, to how it is not an outside force but an internal entity, desire and urge, which is manifested in man, and through him is visible in the nature.

Other pieces in the workshop showed a variety of approaches. Some artists continued the type of work which they do in their studios. Others aimed to change their visual vocabulary, and incorporated visual elements from this location. The established painters -- such as Moeen Faruqi from Pakistan, Hani Alkam from Jordan and Richard Kimathi of Kenya -- usually produced canvases which could have been painted and installed anywhere, regardless of whether it was Karachi, Amman or Nairobi. The geographical origin of the works at Gadani was just an irrelevant detail for them.

On the other hand, several artists sought to stretch their usual practices and tried to make syntheses of their studio-work and the demands of the site. Among them, Jamil Baloch constructed scarecrow-like structures (which populate his paintings too) across Gadani. The installation was completed with the artist acting like a live scarecrow for more than an hour. Even if the work was not 'conceptually edited', it depicted the artist's desire to alter his usual language and habitual medium. In the same way, Salima Hashmi wrapped stained bandages on dried thorn-bushes. Her installation was an extension of the way she blends the stains, charcoals and textures of fabric in her works on paper. Alak Roy, the Bangladeshi sculptor, produced clay works which reflected his signature style, but were well suited to a site where dust and sand were the strongest elements.

Perhaps workshops like Vasl (which was made possible due to the remarkable organisation of Naiza Khan and Adeela Suleman) provide an occasion for artists to rethink and change their normal course of work. They may not make any significant art-piece during such workshops, but the experience contributes towards altering their views, strategies and approaches. This was evident in the works made by three miniature painters, Mehreen Zuberi, Saira Sheikh and Muhammed Zeeshan. While Mehreen made a wall-drawing and Saira created a sound-piece with bells, Zeeshan outlined the contours of cliffs and beach with the help of interlocked safety pins.

All of these attempts testified that our miniature painters are not restricting themselves to one way of working. Maybe the Vasl workshop has provided them the occasion to communicate with the world outside the studio, with other artists and most importantly with themselves.


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