Amin Gulgee’s new sculptural formations, standing tall in his gallery like totem poles or guardians, seem to carry many secrets of time and history. Pieces of copper/cast copper and bronze, in the shape of letters in the traditional Arabic script balance gracefully, one on top of the other, in what seems like an effortless dance. The work titled ‘7’, shown recently in a preview in Karachi, travels to Galleria d’Arte Moderna, Rome, in a solo show this year. It’s curated by Paolo De Grandis and Claudio Crescentini and co-curated by Carlotta Scarpa.
Amin’s work is situated within the paradox of his times. While he has referenced the Chahar Bagh, or the four-part Mughal garden, in his work since the ’90s, here there is an unavoidable disruption of the traditional Islamic garden. His aesthetics also embraces the subtlety of the Persian, Urdu and Arabic scripts and there is a harmonious continuity of lines, which becomes the form. In this exhibition, the circular Nastaliq script emerges as a delicate nuance, a veil and a formation of lines like the rhythm of a musical note barely audible.
We are left to complete the work, to wonder at the word and the object that intervene in a rhythm of repetition. These repeated letters, such as the ‘Alif’, ‘Noon’ etc, present new possibilities of interpreting Amin’s sensibility. The incoherence of the words, disjointed from the original phrase, keep the viewer at a distance. It is as if the artist intended to extract the essence of the word, as he departs on a solo flight. He may also be negotiating the ‘sacred’ within, with an insistence on creating personal spaces that defy containment.
In his latest work, artist Amin Gulgee deals with the paradox of light and dark, disruption and embellishment, in moments of rapture and solitude
Repeated within a grid, the negative spaces invoke the movement of light and vision, to look beyond the frame, in seeing what is not apparently visible. What we really seem to have before us is Amin’s garden. A manifestation of the Islamic Chahar Bagh, there is a chadar of coal spread on the floor. Is this a negative space or a shadow of the grids? It is in gestures such as these that Amin exposes himself, without ego or self-censorship. He deals with the paradox of light and dark, disruption and embellishment, in moments of rapture and solitude.
In the Mughal garden, the Cheeni Khana is a water channel which runs over a wall of diyaas (lamps) lit in the niches appearing like a sheet of light. This chadar is reflected as a source of purity and an attempt at recreating the gardens of Paradise. In the essay ‘Rethinking the Islamic Garden’ Attilio Petruccioli describes the carpet of Khosrow 1 as “depicting a garden with streams and paths, with stones as bright as crystal depicting the illusion of water, the ground worked in gold, to look like earth.”
“The Persian garden,” Petruccioli says, “looked for an order, in a means of drawing earth and cosmos together.”
In Amin’s garden, reflection is transformed in meanings closer to the artist’s lived experience. Embellishment is not opulent but in a raw form. This garden is bare and minimal. The coal is dark, and penetrates many layers of terrain — the psychological and the social — with possibilities of renewed transformation.
In a prior performance, the Chahar Bagh was left to burn in a public space and in other performative happenings; Amin’s curatorial voice came through the jarring discord of up to 50 artists that he gathered in the enclosed gallery. Amin’s narrative exists between the calm and the tumultuous and the open and free.
“7” was held at the Amin Gulgee Gallery in Karachi from March 30 to April 7, 2018
Published in Dawn, EOS, April 29th, 2018
Amra Ali – April 29, 2018
This week, You! talks to renowned artist, Amin Gulgee, regarding his latest art installation in Karachi…
A few artists have their names associated with ingenuity and originality in Pakistan and the world over. Only some of them have understood that art can’t be imitated and it is something which completely relies on an artist’s pure imaginations and ideology. One such name in the world of art is of Amin Gulgee. Armed with a Bachelor of Art in Economics and Art History from the prestigious Yale University, USA, Amin Gulgee began his career as an artist in 1990 from his native city of Karachi. Using this ancient land and its rich, diverse history as his muse, his creations synergise Hindu mythology, Buddhist asceticism and Islamic calligraphy to explore the underlying spirituality of man.
Amin Gulgee’s latest installation in Karachi, titled ‘7’, was recently on display at Amin Gulgee Gallery, Clifton, Karachi, and will shortly depart the city heading to the Eternal City, Rome, for the Galleria d’Arte Moderna [GAM], where the work will be curated by Paolo de Grandis and Claudio Crescentini.
Scrolls of large metal structures; this larger than life installation consists of the fifth verse of al-Alaq in the Quran divided into seven pieces. Gulgee often scripts this verse from the 96th chapter of the Holy Quran on his artwork. Surah al-Alaq (‘The Clot’, also referred to as ‘al-Iqra’) is believed to be the first revelation sent to the Prophet Muhammad in the cave Hira, in the city of Mecca. The fifth verse is where we are told that God “Taught man that which he did not know.”
Having constructed and deconstructed it so many times in the past decade, it has now become internalised and Gulgee embodies it through ‘7’, where the sentence is itself divided into seven portions and these seven sections are repeated several times, and hence the name of the exhibit.
While talking to this scribe, Gulgee talked about his recent activities from curating last year’s ‘Karachi Biennele’ and now to be showcasing his work in Rome, representing Pakistan at this prestigious global art solo show.
“It’s wonderful to be in my workshop, back in my day job. Also, I am absolutely thrilled to be going to Rome. It is a city that has always a special place in my heart. I studied art history and my fascination was with the Roman Renaissance,” shared Amin Gulgee.
“The whole point of this show is that the text is not readable, although the content comes from a special source for me, I am going beyond content,” described Gulgee, for whom, all pieces of art in the show are one installation.
The artist has internalised the words, and he allows the pieces to do the same, free-flowing, delving into the heart of the verse itself; as according to an official essay by Zarmeene Shah that accompanies the immersive experience of the exhibition, “The power and possibility within that which is not known.”
“For ‘7’, I have divided the verse into seven sections and the words are repeated throughout the exhibition,” told Gulgee. “You cannot read the text, so the pieces are like my private messages and private love letters.”
This romantic sentiment is carried through to the entrance, where glass bottles are displayed with notepaper and an invitation to write a private message and place it in a bottle, which you bring inside and becomes a part of the exhibition. At the end of the exhibition, Gulgee would burn the bottles and destroy the messages so they will remain private.
“This is a performance element to the exhibition,” explains the artist. “These bottles full of private love messages were my way of engaging everyone in the installation as their words and thoughts literally become part of the organic ‘7’.”
This deliberate inclusion is one of the many charms to this well-thought out show.
“There is also an algorithm that’s projected onto a screen in the installation where these seven parts to the phrase appear randomly till the screen goes white, then they become black, then white, and each time a letter appears, one tone of the rubab is heard,” explained Gulgee.
When asked why the verse was divided into seven pieces, the artist replied, “It was an intuitive choice. I love numbers. I love all numbers, because this is so private to me, I don’t even like the source to be discussed. I have claimed the sentence to be mine and it is very private to me. So, the show in a way is about privacy to me, in a world where everything is exposed.”
According to Shah’s essay, the number seven has several religious connotations, such as the biblical reference to God completing the creation of the Earth in seven days and in Islam, the Quran refers several times to the presence of seven heavens, the (Quran 71:15), and to the seven gates of hell (Quran 15:44), and during Hajj, the pilgrims walk around the Holy Kaaba seven times, as well as walk between the Mounts Safa and Marwa seven times, and even seven pebbles are thrown at each of the three pillars that represent the Devil during the ritual at Mina.
Gulgee also felt it was important that seven was a primary number. “A primary number, as such, is in a circle that connects us back to the idea of singularity, it remains indivisible, except only by itself (one),” elaborated Gulgee.
While one’s eye is drawn to the depth of the metal, the curves of the sculpture, the hidden love message and the messages in a bottle, the magic really happens beneath it all, from the depth of the vision and the soul of the artist.
There is an apocryphal legend regarding the origins of drawing. It speaks of a young woman in Corinth whose lover was going away. To remember him, she traced the outline of his shadow on a wall and thus created a drawing. Going beyond the romance of this legend, we may consider the line or mark-making as a representation of what is absent or unseen. From the dynamics of absence and presence, we can extrapolate another dynamic – that of the visible and the invisible; that which cannot be seen relies on signs to express its truth. And this brings us to Amin Gulgee’s sculpture series with the pithy title “7.”
The preview of “7” was presented by Amin Gulgee and Sameera Raja at Gulgee’s eponymous gallery. The exhibition is scheduled to travel to Rome in summer, where it will be shown at Galleria d’Arte Moderna.
The artist has given visibility to the ineffable quality of love in the form of a secret code that consists of seven letters. These letters reconstitute themselves multiple times as whole or fragments in the form of Gulgee’s sculptures. They are visible representations of what is concealed. Love or perhaps a broken heart is the source of inspiration. But like the earth-embedded roots of a tree, the source remains hidden.
The selection of seven letters has been made by Gulgee from a particular sentence which he chooses not to disclose. The meaning of the sentence is poignant and deeply personal. From his distillation of seven select letters, emotions are translated into three-dimensional form and embodied in the frozen choreography of calligraphy. Amin Gulgee’s “7” has taken impalpable emotion and embodied it in sculpture. The recall of emotion transforms from the subjective space of memory into the objective reality of architectural space.
Working in copper, Gulgee has created several different forms of sculptural installations which use the seven letters as building blocks. There are hanging screens, slender, free-standing upright sculptures and individual letter fragments used in wall and floor installations. The monumental quality of the work creates a huge architectural impact.
The rectangular screens — which Gulgee refers to as scrolls — are suspended from the ceiling like veils. Some are perforated with letters cut out of the solid background, while others have solid letters that stand out against a perforated background. The scrolls slice through three-dimensional space with the laciness of a skeleton leaf. The shadows they cast on the floor create a dialogue with the scroll and the viewer, as they alter according to the angle of the light and the viewpoint.
The upright sculptures are created by stacking the seven letters into miraculously balanced pillars. They remain upright through internal balance rather than reliance on base mounts. They are part of Gulgee’s appropriately-named Ascension series of sculpture.
There is a large floor installation (approximately 10’x26’) in which coal lumps form a carpet. Strewn throughout the “carpet” are fragments of the seven letters. They glow like burning embers from the charcoal background into which they are set, reminiscent perhaps of the embers of past love.
Amin Gulgee has made an intuitive choice to express himself through the number seven. He speaks of the seductive quality that is inherent in all numbers having a profound appeal to him. The number seven has the property of being a prime number and has other mystical associations in mythology and culture.
An interesting accompaniment to the sculpture is a video that replays the infinite patterns the seven letters make as they move on the screen. They coalesce into near blackness and then retreat into filigrees of black and white. Amin Gulgee has worked with a programmer to devise a special algorithm to create the video. The constant movement of letters is hypnotic. It evokes the flow of memory and the recall of emotion that erupts from the subconscious, intuitive mind.
Another play on the idea of the hidden message was the interactive performance at the opening of the show. As viewers entered the premises, they found note paper and amber-tinted bottles placed on a table. They were asked to write a “declaration of love to a person, place or thing (past, present or future)” on the paper and insert it into the bottle which they could then place against the walls of the Gallery. The messages would be destroyed at the end of the show without being read. Thus, the viewers were coaxed into become participants in an act of secrecy such as the secret that is enshrined in the flowing sculptural forms in “7.”
By Nusrat Khawaja – April 2018
An exhibition of his works titled 7, which can be viewed at the Amin Gulgee Gallery, is a testimony to the observation.
The focus, mind you, is on the letters, the calligraphic movement of alphabets. The movement is tautological, which means, the viewer can see it over and over, repeating itself. This symbolises the power of the written word: once you get the hang of it, you will find it difficult to remove it from your consciousness. The artist, however, has employed them as, what he calls, ‘scrolls’ that come across as barriers.
Amin elucidates: “The show is called 7. It’s a sentence that I have divided into seven sections. It’s repeated throughout the exhibition. Now you can no longer read any of the text. So it becomes, sort of, my private messages and private love letters. There is also a performance element to the display in which I’ve asked people to write a message to anybody they love and put in a bottle placed by the gallery wall. It’s all private and will be destroyed after the show.
“Then there is the video, an algorithm, where the letters appear randomly on the screen. Each time a letter falls, it is associated with one musical note [sa re ga ma pa dha ni].”
This is an intriguing way of keeping the private as the private and at the same time by putting the message in the amber bottle, people find an opportunity to express themselves publicly without entertaining the thought that their love will be revealed.
The exhibition will conclude on April 7 and later travel to GAM Galleria d’Arte Moderna in Rome, curated by Paolo de Grandis and Claudio Crescentini.
Published in Dawn, April 3rd, 2018
Art TV Pakistan covers 7 by Amin Gulgee at the Amin Gulgee Gallery
The Show will later travel to GAM Galleria d’Arte Moderna in Rome. Curated by Paolo de Grandis and Claudio Crescentini Co-curated by Carlotta Scarpa
Source: ART TV PAKISTAN
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