Wednesday, 8 August 2012

The Art of Listening [ Review - Amina Ahmed at Gallery Seven Art]

Ave Maria Gratia Plena
- detail
How well are you connected? No, not on facebook or twitter, but to your soul; do you hear the call? New York based artist, Amina Ahmed’s recent exhibition at Seven Art Limited, New Delhi, drew inspiration from the “pulse of life” permeating all forms. Her father taught her that rain, trees and even their roots had a sound. She gives this communion a visual language in ‘The Call or ‘Bism’.

My heart is on Fire...
Imprinted on the gallery wall, a few words informed that while we live, there is a state of persistent longing. This angst, of separation from the divine, leads to bliss of oneness and separation again, in an eternal cycle. Through nuances of sound and shifting patterns of trees, water, roots and the logic of birds, the artist communicates with the divine. Seeing this connection in all things, Ahmed brought the language of birds, the subtlety of earth, and the rhythm of water, as drawings, installation and video, into the gallery space. The omission of any connection to other human beings was telling; speaking of the tendency to draw solace from aspects of nature that are unable to speak as we do, and thus contradict or question our assumptions about them.
 Most works were subtle and monochromatic, without overt messages or dramatic invocation of the divine. Haunting Sufi music that accompanied the two videos resounded in the entire space, adding to the serenity. As one walked through ‘Pukar’ with its numerous messages invoking the divine; over centuries and across cultures, imprinted under a beam and on the inside of its pillars, creating a sacred arch of sorts; you were compelled to ask: Am I in tune with nature? Have my senses been dulled by loudspeakers, hi-decibel newscasts and advertisements on television? 

 In “Water’ a diptych [20.75 x9.75 inches, 2011, monotype] miniscule squiggly lines, form a longer one in a continuum , until the end of the narrow paper width; then the next line close to this and the next and the next; like an endless invocation, manically drawn with meticulous detail. If there was any definitive form to begin with, it merged into this ebb and flow, forming a ‘jaal’ that seemingly meant nothing and yet spoke of marks that make up our lives as we flow through experiences: the intertwining of cause and effect that entraps most of us.

Fine, silvered pins and photographic paper formed the ‘Rhythm of Fiveness’, a site specific installation on the wall [2011, dimensions variable]. Beneath this, a geometric pattern was lightly drawn in pencil over which the paper curled and twisted, forming protrusions on the wall surface. 

Rhythm of Fiveness
Even though the ‘pattern’ seemed to emerge from a calculated mathematical formula, encrypted in the underlying geometrical configuration, the result was chaotic. This was augmented by shadows produced through an overhead light source. The origin of the form seemed inconsequential, for the artist’s process of exploration had reduced it to an orchestrated presentation of chaos emanating from order; evocative of living, especially when our connection with the divine is impaired.

Oh, Subtle Earth
As a whole, the exhibition was soulful and evocative of some deep listening, but the unevenness in Ahmed’s involvement with the different elements jarred. Her invocations through water and birds had far greater depth than the rest. ‘Oh, Subtle Earth [tree]’ [30x18 inches, 2011, mixed media on paper] carried a texture similar to what had earlier been presented as ‘Water’. Its roots extended down from a rectangular surface with intense but tiny marks, like the tassels of a prayer rug. This work was hauntingly exquisite and worked much better without the title. And ‘Listening [Roots]’ [Charcoal on paper, 63x42 in, 2011] with its massive, black, typhoon-like swirl, brought in a bolder dimension and one lost the subtle thread of intensity connecting works like ‘Tree’, ‘Water’ and ‘River’. Adding to the confusion was another awkwardly swirling large form, drawn with charcoal on paper - ‘Listening [roots, weeds and trees]’. The paradox of oneness and the wretched angst of separation or subliminal glimpses of transcendence were better nuanced in ‘Water’ with its manic, obsessive line work and simple but effective articulation.

Ave Maria Gratia Plena

Listening[Roots Weads &
In ‘Ave Maria Gratia Plena’ a site specific installation of variable dimensions [paper and pins, 2011] Inspired by a prayer to Mary, Blessed of all women, Ahmed created shapes, evocative of fallen feathers, from unusually textured paper. The pure whiteness of the paper against a white wall infused the installation with an aura, almost sacred. Was it a shrine to Birds? In the video ‘The Call with the help of Divine Nature’ birds are shown flying the sky. There is nothing subliminal about this flight; you can barely discern the form. The same movement is repeated in a somewhat deliberate, jerky motion. Birds shed their feathers. Birds fly. What is the logic of birds? Living in a multi-storey complex in Gurgaon, where pigeons abound, it’s impossible not to notice them. But the day after seeing Ahmed’s video; whenever I saw a flock mid-air, I stopped and wondered at the rationale of creatures that seem to do little else other than procreate at an astonishing pace and take to the skies.  The logic of birds seemed simple: be what you are, do what you are born to do. This is where Ahmed succeeds, guiding you to hear your own call.

The Call, Bism
When I saw the show, no literature accompanied the exhibition; the artworks also had no labels. It was an unusually calming experience: a silent communion, free of extraneous explanations. But later, reading the artists’ statement, I was disappointed. Her words obfuscated with formalized, intellectual ideas that detracted from the magical, personal connections made without them. If there is intention to lead the viewer, it would be useful to provide titles and literature at the onset. However, to connect with work executed with such heart and soul, a quiet mind, unhindered by jargon and politics would be more adept at listening.

To read a story inspired by this show read:


Julia Dutta said...

This! This is what I call art! It really enters your soul and touches you in ways, you really Don't Want to speak about.

Thanks for showcasing.


gopika nath said...

It was a special exhibition Julia. She is a very sensitive artist.

Anna Sujatha Mathai said...

How ver lovely! How very true! We are increasingly cut off from the subtle sounds of the earth and of nature.We must enter a deep silence within ourselves to begin to hear.

gopika nath said...

Thank you for reading, Sujatha. I am so happy to read that you enoyed this piece.