Saba’s Interconnected Universe, essay by suneet chopra

sabaportrait2

The present exhibition of Saba Hasan’s non-figurative art is notable for one important reason. While the figurative veers closer to individual points of reference, the non-figurative encompasses universalities and in work such as Saba’s the individual elements come into play as well, but well within the framework of the universal structure. This exhibition brings into play the different genres of art drawn from a wide variety of disciplines and media: videos, charcoal drawings, sculptures, collographs, photographs and encaustic, encompassing many different artistic approaches.
Her use of linearity, spatial compositions, the moving image , textures, the interplay of light and shade creates a canvas so varied that ultimately it draws the viewer to the essence of art that is the content around which different formal edifices are constructed making each work of art a material entity in itself.
Saba’s works, whichever genre they may belong to, carry with them that element of the first strike. It can be a smudge of charcoal, a dash of colour in a layered space of different tones of white and off white. It can be colour emerging from layered applications of different tones or it can be a flash of light in a web of shadow. For the discerning eye these formal characteristics give one the feeling of the light at the end of a tunnel, which provides a visual arousal of hope even in the darkest of surroundings. This comes out sharply in her video where we see reflections on the Dal Lake with the flow of the poetry of Faiz Ahmed Faiz recited by Zehra Nigah, evoking a profound sense of empathy with the human condition.
This element of hope is reflected in the powerful undercurrents that characterise her work irrespective of the medium she uses. Sweeping lines, whorls and the flow of a liquid motion give us the confidence that if running water can cut through stone over time, how much easier is it for motivated people to do the same if they are determined to reach their goal ?
Indeed, while the mere promise of motion in a visual illusion in two dimensional space can inspire one, it is the intervention of elements of concrete spaces that become forms in her art and awaken memories in every one of us. The locations vary from New York, Chicago, Paris, Salzburg to Srinagar, Kochi and Colombo, allowing one to enter the basis of her experience and blend one’s own perception with it and this gives us yet another dimension through which we can appreciate her work.
This exhibition reflects the joy and empathy inherent in non-figurative art while not losing the individual character and concrete references of each work as a moment in the life of the artist. It reflects both the present and its germination in the experiences of her past and also in the future in the eye of the viewer. All this is transparent in Saba’s works and reflects the depth of what one can appreciate through her art. This is, in essence, its value.

Suneet Chopra, Art Critic & Writer

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ANGAAREY : published in Women and Art for the University of Vadodara

As a child of a newscaster and a journalist, both avid readers and littérateurs, I learnt early to see the immense power and beauty of words. I started using extracts from Urdu poetry in a series of mixed media paintings titled ‘‘The Book of Disquiet” (2005)1 and later handwritten letters from my mother in a series called “Letters from Baton Rouge” (2007).
As an artist, I am interested in the connection between words and visuals as a way of reading the world and I use that link to transcend socially established boundaries. For me the exciting thing, irrespective of the position taken, is to use this link to explore philosophically the concept of truth, to question the given and to use this understanding to advance related ideas. I have worked with books as a material for sculptures and installations to examine and present these concepts in the domain of art. A related video of my conversations with writers and activists on truth as we encounter in our work sphere,”la verite/haqeeqat/the truth project”was part of the Sarai Reader 09exhibition at the Devi Art Foundation (2013) and as nominee for a contemporary art prize at Assab One in Milan (2014).
I often use my mother tongue Urdu for the text though I can’t read or write in it, having left India when I was six years old. I use it as a calligraphic element and to highlight underlying personal histories in the context of a broader socio political expression. The Urdu script in my work also acts as a cultural signifier to address the politics of belonging in the context of national history where post partition politics refuses to accept Muslims as Indians. I write my own verse in English, my other tongue, one that is most likely trans located from Urdu and their mix carries within it a desire to belong to many worlds. From Tagore as much as from Pushkin or Dickinson to Lorca, I have learnt to speak in a language invoking myths from the countries I have lived in like Russia, France, India and America.
In my current installations which in a sociological context deal with gender constructs, I have juxta posed iconic feminist writings in Urdu on hand crafted traditional fabrics like fine Benares weaves or silks decorated with borders of gold zari, traditionally worn by women as odhnis or sarees. For this series I have chosen feminist poetry and stories in Urdu written by both men and women since 1920. Literary fiction has always been influential in societies to formulate identities or question traditions. It is important here also to recognize the role played by men in the evolution of gender rights by supporting women in their families and in professional spheres.
The aftermath of the revolt of 1857 had a profound effect on Indian Muslims and responding to the times many reformers took education of women as their deepest concern. Universities, hostels, publishing houses and journals for women, many led by the educated urbanized gentry made an appearance. Muslim women from all regions and professions came into the field of literature. Representatives of a revolutionary trend in Indian writing like, Ismat Chughtai, Dr. Rashid Jahan, Asifa Mujib, Qudratullain Hyder and Razia Sajjad Zaheer experimented with technique, expression and content. They questioned exploitative conventions, morals and candidly wrote about unspoken aspects like female sexuality deftly using literary devices to criticize patriarchy.

The Urdu text is a selection from writers who are the spiritual flag bearers of feminism among Urdu readers of South Asia. By placing it on women’s clothes I have associated words with their lives and made the work more intimate. In art history, the body has been the perennial subject for feminists and I recover it here by using clothes, which would have otherwise covered that body, enacting duplicitous roles of a veil and a mirror. Odhnis bring focus onto the concept of veiling, which is inseparable from rights over the body in South Asia and its multiple reconstructing symbols.
Through these compositions I want to reveal the deepest and most universal aspects of life, those of personal relations and all the hidden or suppressed emotions. Looking at these objects, the hand woven rich silks, gauze like cottons with gold zari borders and the text, we morph from woman, mother, friend, bride, to reader, writer, artist, viewer layering each perspective to challenge the present while accepting that there may be some knowledge that is retrievable and has relevance today.
Several such fabrics intertwined create a dialogue between women, between ideas and refer critically to traditions that have been passed down the ages in our societies. I wish to look at social memory, power conflicts, and the nuanced human psyche using text as filter to distill each fraction into final compositions. Constantly changing references addressed by the different materials, hand etched cursive writing with mistakes and corrections, clothes woven, embellished, textured, I want them all familiar and new to nudge us towards reorganizing in our heads our present and our future.
Art is as powerful as the knowledge and instincts of the artist and the mind of the viewer so my main concern is to go beyond what we already know or maybe can know. My inspiration comes from a sense of activism and a committed interest in the world larger than myself and I strive to capture the complexity of my world by channeling it through the enigmatic lens of poetic imageries. Lighting these sparks like Angarey is the first step for change.