Exploring the loss of heritage
When art engages art, the work that emerges can reveal a very deep and intimate conversation about creativity itself.
Muscat-based artist Sara Riaz Khan’s solo exhibition, ‘There is Beauty Yet’ echoes this with great profundity.
Her collection of 26 paintings, which are on display at Bait Muzna Gallery, are not just fine works in abstraction; the intricate layers of colour and texture on canvas also tell the “story about art that has been neglected and wasted”.
For Sara, who teaches design technology at the American British Academy, this story took shape during a visit to the Lahore Fort in Pakistan in January this year.
“The monument had not been looked after. I was really distressed and upset by the neglect of the structure, its faded frescoes and pocked marble,” she said, while remembering how much of this architectural marvel - built during the reign of Mughal emperor Akbar - had fallen to ruins since her last visit several years ago. On second thoughts, she felt that the damage hadn’t been too drastic, “but it was enough for me to notice. Perhaps I was looking for something different that I had forgotten.”
Whatever the trigger, Sara came back saddened and heavy, but not entirely dejected. “Though I went back with a lot of negativity, I did not want to be left with this feeling,” she said. The powerful need to transform the experience into something more positive overshadowed the undercurrents of negativity surrounding her visit.
“I realised that visually, the fort was still beautiful. There was so much texture, and even though some of the colours had faded, there was a different kind of beauty,” Sarah said.
Her quest for this beauty took physical form in a poem, which she eventually translated into a series of paintings, now at display at the gallery.
Each of Sara’s artworks enjoys a wild run of colours - the inspiration for her palette coming from the earthiness and dynamism of the fort.
“For the colours, I was really thinking fort, sandstorm and brick, which is why you will see a lot of brown, pink and purple in my work. But as I kept painting, I realised that it was taking a direction of its own. So though I started with a sense of colour, I did not have absolute control over it,” she said.
But that’s just one aspect of her work. The true nature of Sara’s artwork is in its many layers, which add depth to her paintings.
Some of her canvases hide her forms under ten to 15 layers of oil and gesso through a meticulous yet often unplanned process of staining, layering, scratching, scrambling, obliterating, regenerating, flicking and rotating the canvas.
“There is some planning and a lot of intuition in my work. Each of my paintings may have been ten different paintings till it decided on what it wanted to be,” she said.
What makes Sara’s paintings intriguing is that her subject is often stylised in a way that makes it almost inconspicuous. It’s only close observation that reveals arches, geometrical shapes and Arabesque designs, possibly pointing to Sara’s vision of the Mughal fort of her memory.
The artist, however, describes her style as a vocabulary, which helps her engage with the natural world. “The underlying impulse of my work is the natural world. Being connected to nature is something I remember from my earliest memories, it is part of who I am and how I understand myself.”
It’s this draw to nature that makes her solo exhibition in Muscat more rewarding. The artist, who has previously been showcased in Karachi, Dubai and Lahore, was looking forward to exhibiting her work solo in Oman - her home for over 12 years now. This place is the perfect haven for artists, she said.
“The light is amazing, and you’ve got mountains all around you. It is very inspiring in that sense. Being enfolded by nature gives you ample time to relax, process and come back rejuvenated.”
‘There is Beauty Yet’ will run till December 1.