It’s a remarkable picture, but is it art?
This is the question that many of you would ask once you enter the Canvas Gallery to see artist Komail Aijazuddin’s exhibition: ‘Secret History’. Originally from Lahore and an alumnus of the New York University, with a Masters Degree from Pratt Institute, New York; Komail has displayed his work extensively, locally and internationally. Every pattern in his work has its own meaning which is obscure, likely to be understood by only a few people. His pieces of art are full of arcane details that only pop culture enthusiasts will understand. Komail told, “I’m trying to find the way to introduce meaning through colours, symbols and shape.” When Komail was asked to define his idea behind the painting, he refused to tell. To know his work completely and with certainty, one has to conclude his or her own meaning.
The artist was attending a wedding reception some years ago when it occurred to him that the colour scheme for that most assertive of societal traditions had changed. He was no longer surrounded by the loud multicoloured patterns of blue, orange, yellow and green geometry popular before the 90s. Those psychedelic prints had been replaced with floating gauzy fabrics, sequined pastels and walls of cascading flowers. He makes no normative judgment about this – the evolution seems a natural one – but it did get him thinking about how shape and colour express meaning in culture. The old shamiana came from a very specific visual lineage. Seen carefully, it read like a “happy” Islamic geometric pattern, its colours carefully coded to convey one feeling: celebration. Much of the present series of work investigates that idea: the way colours, codes and symbols can be used to imply meaning or, in the case with much of this work, obscure it.
The paintings might appear narrative, but they offer no obvious story. Instead, their meaning is embedded in the space where gesture, chroma and pattern intersect. The ‘Secret Keepers II’ is perhaps the most superficially reminiscent of the traditional shamiana, but its pattern is actually from Moorish Spanish architecture; other symbols have more established connotations, like the acorns – medieval allegories for material abundance – hidden in the baroque pattern behind the triptych of well-dressed Watchers (inspired by a picture by Amrita Sher-Gill); the thorny rose bushes of the Wedding were traditionally used through Christian art history to denote Adam and Eve after the fall from Paradise, while the pink paisley vegetation of the readers has a history both pre and post-colonialism.
Conceptually the work is also about expectation and promises. Much of the visual content is an expansion of Komal’s continued interest in the objects, people, relationships and rituals that we imbibe with reverence. He articulated the patterns using highly concentrated dry pigments, which gives the surface a matte, velvet quality. In them the light does not bounce off the surface as it does with his gold leaf work, but rather is absorbed
Komail is a full time practising artist, who currently lives between New York and Lahore.