Last week, I visited Mussawir Art Gallery in Dubai for the first time to view Here and Now—Modern Miniatures. I learned about the technique of painting miniatures from the group exhibition, which introduces a Dubai audience to the work of 9 recent graduates from the prestigious National College of Arts in Lahore.
Miniature painting in Pakistan has its origins in the Mughal Empire (1526-1857). While a miniaturist once apprenticed under a master for years of training, the ancient art can now be selected as a concentration in Fine Arts programs at prestigious schools around the country, and instruction is condensed down to 4 years. The curriculum is integrated with study of contemporary art history and technique, and the chemistry between old and new are what make Here and Now so interesting.
I was fascinated to learn that all the miniatures in the exhibition were painted using a classic brush made up of a single, wiry horsehair. They were composed on wasli, a handmade, cooking flour-based paper that is poisonous to insects and used exclusively as a canvas for miniatures.
Although the materials and techniques used to create the miniatures are time-honored, the images themselves are anything but: Asif Ahmed overlaps his work with newspaper word searches, Raphaelite cherubs, and other symbols from seemingly clashing eras. Sobia Ahmed adds watercolor and abstraction, finding power in removing elements of the expected. Irfan Hassan plays with classic portraiture and archetypes.
I admired the recent graduates for the visual dialogue they were holding with the past. Even though they are working within the confines of an established art, a form that clearly has rules and bounds, they are able to add in their own interpretations and meaningful elements of pop culture. My imagination charged ahead of my feet as I wandered the gallery—I was drawn in by the elements of mythology present in the exhibition. I wanted to understand the significance behind Sobia Ahmed’s cobalt birds, Irfan Hassan’s blind hero, and Asif Ahmed’s wrestler carrying the world on his shoulders.
Because the artists are recent graduates, the miniatures are extremely affordable and several would make clever acquisitions for a young collector. The gallery is located in an Al Quoz warehouse, on a busy road with signs cautioning drivers about Deep Excavation. I admire this real, non-commercial location and certainly recommend a trip to the gallery to view Here and Now or to take part in one of the many workshops that Mussawir regularly offers.
Good Ideas: To plan your visit to view Here and Now at Mussawir Art Gallery go here.
Image Credits: Courtesy of the artists and Mussawir Art Gallery