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Encasing Memories

Saulat Ajmal

There’s something poetic about the breathing walls and heaving floors, the aging windows and the echoes of an abandoned space. What all it must have seen and heard! People in those spaces that had lived there and gone on, carrying the aura of the space they had inhabited with them. To hear the hum of silence and feel the shifting dust beneath your feet, to feel the ephemeral finding permanence through the different art forms housed in the space was special.

The exhibition space

Such a space was chosen by Ali Arshad, heading The Roadside, in collaboration with June Collective assisted by Ghazala Raees, for the show Allomorphs of an Antecedent. It was a pop-up art exhibition that erased boundaries between space and art and created new ways of seeing.

This show coincided with an international roadside show that took place in Turkey at the same time and was being filmed and documented at the Lahore venue on-screen as a collective work of art at the the exhibition. Meena, Nisha Ghani, Sahyr Sayed and Tehreem Mela’s works in a video documentation displayed in Turkey, changed on a daily basis for the duration of the show, carried the thread of the idea of space acting as a living organism going across borders. The space is no longer a stagnant structure supporting art as an alien entity in a pristine white-walled environment. Rather, it is now a fluid exchange between both the structure and the art, connecting with a space far away from Pakistan, on the rainy streets of Turkey.

Scenes from Turkey (L to R: Tehreem Mela, Meena, Nisha Ghani)

The venue in Lahore was a contested commercial plaza in the center of Liberty Market with an abandoned family home upstairs and shops below. The space has transitioned multiple times between being home to the memories of a family growing up on the top floor, to becoming storage space for shoe shops downstairs. Walking up to the first floor of the exhibition through the crowds, you encounter mostly black and white works on the first floor, setting the mood of seriousness and instilling the idea of what memories might look like if encased.

Ayaz Jokhio’s practice, while almost post-conceptualist in his association with music, created a sound piece for the space as a collaboration between Zainab Khwaja and himself. The sound piece evoked how people once occupied the space, how their work became a part of everyone else’s work. Sound has an uncanny hold on memory as it takes over and gives flavour to any space. To hear this reverberating piece in the space seemed to invest all the artworks with a sense of being living and breathing entities.

Aun Raza's photographs

Aun Raza’s photographs of Mongolia, scaled up to the size of the entire wall in their depiction of an urban setting focusing on a dog in the foreground, spoke volumes to how, organically, nature takes over; the statue of a Greek sculpture with its behind exposed, a metaphor to what impression human presence might hold. The photographs became immersive in their post-apocalyptic and communist-era feel echoing through the space as loudly as the sound piece itself.

Mohsin Shafi's projection

Mohsin Shafi’s projection of a human figure on the floor in one enclave, made specifically for the space, took the eye down to the floor itself, adding a touch of humor to the idea of a human resting in peace in the space.

Detail from Jahanzeb Haroon's work

Jahanzeb Haroon’s photographs sitting next to the window, carry that palpable, ephemeral sense of objecthood through the way they exist. The pre-existing photographs, printed on luxuriously textured watercolour sheet, gave them a sensual vibe and presence through the documentation itself. These brought your attention to how he found and refurbished antique cameras and created these photographs, that have the same quality of wanting to hold on to time itself through technologies that have now been left behind.

Wajeeha Batool's display

On the other hand, Wajeeha Batool’s works, displayed on multiple screens, switching between blank screens to videos of rain falling on leaves and vanishing to reappear on another screen, acted as memories that reappear when we least expect. The works subliminally entered the realm of nostalgia through the digital platform.

Sajid Khan's miniatures

To hold the varied works in the space together, Sajid Khan’s miniature paintings, sitting on shelves, unframed and unpretentious, spoke of the collective unconscious that we all share, with constantly changing environments and landscapes, of how our memory morphing into layers of scenes and events that are constantly fleeting and never really settle into one form.

Notes on Entropy by Sahyr Sayed

The art works also manage to convey the cultural seduction of hoarding and keeping things along with the waste that comes with it, seen in the wheat bread dough balls (pedas for making rotis), changing in colour and organic composition with time from something hearty and warming to something repulsive as seen in the art works of Sahyr Sayed. Her painting as well, as you walk up the stairs to the second floor, creates its own sense of excess in the build-up of layers of fleshy pinks and the decorative presentation of a cake. Delectable and deplorable both, you looked at the painting from up close and found nooks and corners full of images and stickers, that have lived in the far corners of our cupboards for years. Without reason and eventually without context, however, they do still exist, and we all recognize them as welcome clutter pointing to a long-gone period of joy.

Video projection by Zainab Hussain

Zainab’s video projection of intimate scenes in a corner room upstairs showed Pakistani movies presented in a graphic language at once humorous and critical of a culture borne in the undercurrents of society—a pot of milk boiling over and ending in the close-up of a rose and the camera shifting to sunny skies whenever physical intimacy is suggested. However, a scene of the actress and singer Noor Jahan kissing another woman is not be censored, since women are allowed to kiss in public and not be seen as perverse: an interesting window to our cultural psyche of what is considered appropriate.

Artwork by Nisha Hassan

Nisha Hassan in particular mimicked the flavours of these old spaces in her works. Her powder transfers on walls interacted directly with preexisting drawings on the walls, doodles by kids who once lived there and stickers that made it a home at some point in time. A powder transfer inside the doodle of a house was so organically placed that you almost missed it. An act so subtle that you start paying closer attention to the space and not just the framed objects and you were no longer able to distinguish between memories that are mimicked from those that have always existed there.

Laila Rehman's artwork

A sound piece by MALIK, a DJ by profession, with Laila Rehman’s visually audible wall sculpture came together in a space and showed how they informed each other. Rehman’s work was almost an ode to what has passed and an inscription that worked in tandem with calligraphic text to what has been and what could have been. A poetic interjection that could scar just as it may warn of the dangers of what you might experience in a space if not fully present in the process of evolving with time. Likewise, MALIK’s sound piece could not be seen as a commitment to music, but rather an accumulation of the sounds of life, that interacted and mixed in the sounds of the city, entering the windows and merging with the sound piece, mimicking both art and life simultaneously. Where Rehman’s piece and its prickly edges sprouting from the center in a spiral form screamed for attention, so did Hafsa Nauman’s works, almost white on white embossed textures of archeological elements on paper. Archiving memory and time through textures of grills and peeling walls, Nauman’s works spoke of the cultural stamps on our minds of the patterns in architecture that surround us, quiet yet consistent in holding us in our homes and still in our memories.

Artwork by Hafsa Nauman

When it was decided that it would be a collaborative effort between the romanticism of June Collective and the humour of The Roadside, both combined their ideas of focusing on the ephemerality of the space. Once the entrance was built and the lighting was provided by LBF, the artists were selected according to what the space might want to hold. The building already had character, with the walls being permeable and the structure elusive. The exhibition went up and came down in four days, adding yet another layer to what the space has seen. History has been added and this time it hasn’t gone unseen.

All photos courtesy of the author.


Lahore-based Saulat Ajmal is a visual artist, writer, curator and educationist. She went to Virginia Commonwealth University for her Masters of Fine Arts and Hunter College New York for a Bachelors of Fine Arts and a second one in Sociology. Her practice includes paintings, performances and installations that investigate the overlapping of social constructs with formal aspects of material and medium, invoking ideas of history and fiction through an abstract lens. She is a core member of the Pak Khawateen Painting Club collective and a permanent faculty member of the National College of Arts Lahore.


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