The debate around arts and crafts has long been torturous, particularly when it comes to classifying whether craft can be considered art, and more so, what work falls under which classification. . A rather superficial definition of the main distinctions between art and craft suggests that while the former is an unstructured and open form of expression that functions to relay a raw emotion or feeling, the latter is solely based on creation through craftsmanship. and technicality.
While there may be some truth to these ideas, it by no means encompasses all of the creative work produced today. Especially in Pakistan, artists and artisans have an intrinsic need to incorporate both skill and thought to produce an array of work that overrides definitions of art and craft.
The VM Center for Traditional Arts is a diploma program run by the VM Art Gallery in Karachi and is one such program that invites students to come and learn traditional South Asian crafts with the aim of revitalizing them in the sphere of contemporary art in Pakistan. This one-year diploma course is the result of a partnership with the Prince’s Foundation School of Traditional Arts in London. In a recent exhibition, the gallery presented the works of the second group of graduate artists, which included Shanila Dadabhoy, Luluwa Lokhandwala, Sahar Alamgir, Faryal Diwan, Shahzad Zer, Zubair Ansari and Sana Irfan.
The Diploma program is a blended program where students have taken both online and in-session courses and are taught by experts from London and Pakistan. The course focuses on sharing a variety of traditional skills such as woodworking, textiles, ceramics and painting. There is also a focus on geometric and biomorphic art and how they can be incorporated into color and design.
An exhibition by graduate students shows how they integrate the traditional and the contemporary in pieces that elevate ‘craft’ to ‘art’
As evidenced by the work of the promotion, each artist was able to apprehend the different traditional skills that were taught to him but at the same time was not content to create artisanal pieces. Instead, they were all able to incorporate their own unique voice and concept which elevated the works and allowed them to merge skill and thought.
Shahzad Zer is inspired by the local Chawkandi architecture of Makli, as well as the works of Adam Williamson, Naseer Yasna and Hedieh Woigani. On the strength of all of this research, the artist then became interested in the technicalities of wood carving through various modellings. Muhammad Zubair Ansari focuses his thoughts on the materiality of mahogany wood. Using the skills learned in sculpting, he is able to study the texture of grain and incorporate it into geometric patterns.
Luluwa Lokhandwala takes all of her acquired technical knowledge and focuses it on the tree and how the motif has been used in Islamic art. Sahar Alamgir incorporates her own personal experiences into her work. Constantly changing homes for two decades, Alamgir uses her textile practice to understand ideas of belonging and home, while finding ways to trace family lineage.
Faryal Diwan, Sana Irfan and Shanila Dadabhoy use their knowledge and research to showcase the traditional arts of our homeland. Looking at historic buildings such as the Begum Shahi and Shah Jahan Mosques, they draw inspiration from color, materiality and design to produce contemporary works of art.
As a creative practitioner, one cannot escape the rich history of South Asian craftsmanship. It forms the backbone of contemporary art in our country, because without it, our current education and profession in art and design would probably not be what it is today. Understanding these traditional arts is a great way to not only revive the dying practice, but also help revitalize it and adapt it to today’s context.
The VMCTA Graduation exhibition continues from June 20 to July 6, 2022 at the VM Art Gallery
Posted in Dawn, EOS, July 3, 2022