Karachi in oil on canvas
By: Anil Datta
It is an exhibition that is a pleasant departure from the current trends in avant-garde schools of art, steeped in brain teasing abstractionism. All the 25 paintings adorning the walls of Chawkandi Art are representative of the realistic impressionism school of art.
The paintings are a vivid representation of the various facets of life in Karachi and a lucid presentation of the various city landmarks both current and recent. These paintings present the city as it exists (or existed till recently) and could serve as a souvenir for posterity, to acquaint future generations, who seem to be condemned to live in a Karachi of the monstrosities that are skyscrapers and a concrete jungle, with the beauty that their city once was.
Hanif Shehzad, the artist, has really captured the spirit of Karachi and his works are not only a graphic representation of the landmarks but in many cases portray the common mindset.
The painting titled, “Night view from Saddar” apart from a panoramic view of the place in all its diversity, also prominently displays crumbling walls with graffiti advertising miracle cures for male impotence, a very common preoccupation of being obsessed with manhood and viewing all pursuits of life from this vantage point, and making the impossible possible through black magic, again a very common trait among many of us to seek weird short-cuts to the fulfillment of desires and suppressed emotions.
Even though an exercise in realistic impressionism, many of the works have a surreal touch to them. For instance there is a painting of the Mohatta Palace, titled, “Mohatta Palace Moonlight”. Even though meticulous in detail, it somehow has more of an ethereal rather than a temporal touch.
Then there’s one, titled, “Kharadar Street” a vivid representation of our urban backwaters. It shows the decaying, dilapidated multi-storeyed dwellings of the area with the intricate, haphazard meshwork of electricity cables dangling menacingly over the street below, with the inhabitants being utterly oblivious to the veritable sources of death by electrocution they are exposed to, again a representation of our casual mindset, being casual about matters that require urgent attention.
Talking to The News, the artist, Hanif Shehzad, a civil engineer by profession and also a graduate of the Karachi School of Art, said that what really drove him to the venture was the rapidly eroding heritage of the city. As one born and bred in Karachi, he says, he has an emotional bond with the city and mourns the heritage being eroded the way it is. He said Karachi had a wealth of historical buildings and was a treasure trove of all kinds of architecture, gothic, neo-gothic and others, having seen various phases of history and said it was sad to see history giving way to crass commercialism. He lamented that all the buildings that gave the city its rich historical character were being pulled down by the various syndicates and mafias to reap the quick buck, most of all the building and construction syndicates.
It may be mentioned here that Karachi was a treasure trove of historic(al) buildings, with all the government buildings of the colonial era having been designed by the Scotsman, architect J.B.Strachan (pronounced Strawn) hardly any of which remains now.
The exhibition is not just a random selection of works of art but is also a profound commentary on the corporate mindset which today holds the reins of society wherein aesthetics and the sublimity just have no place and all that matters is reaping the quick buck.
The exhibition which runs up until September 8, is a must-see for all concerned citizens and for all those nostalgically inclined.