It was a sheer coincidence, albeit a most interesting one, that a wellknown Pakistani artist residing in California for some years now, was showing his plastic sculptures and drawings at an art gallery in Karachi and the art magazine from Pakistan, NuktaArt was published during the same week, carrying his artwork on its cover. The art criticism seminar called 'Anxious Century: Discourses Waiting to be Born' was also taking place in Karachi at the same time (a write-up about the seminar has been posted on NP).
Plastic Fantastic: Chishtee and his trash-bag toys
By Juhi Jaferii KARACHI: Trash bags are the things you throw out other things with. They are the non-biodegradable, stretchy, fabric-like material that one can’t imagine as anything other than dustbin dressing. Khalil Chishtee uses these dustbin dressers to make art, to make clear white plastic sculptures that have the ability to shine in the light.
Taking something so hackneyed, so banal, and giving it meaning is Chishtee’s art. His work, which has gone on show at the VM Art Gallery, reveals that simple mundane objects are sparks for creativity. The ordinary inspires him to work and his work gives importance to the ordinary.
The trash bag sculptures have a reason for their existence. One of the sculptures, The Winged Loser, depicts a slouching boy with a small timid wing above his right shoulder. He is sitting cross-legged, cradling a crimson ball in his loose, drooping hands. The sculpture isn’t propped up comfortably on the floor but is bolted to the wall. It seems that the boy, in all his ignominy, was forced on to a flagpole for being a “loser”, for slowing down the team that had to pick him only because he was the kid with the ball. The sculpture isn’t chiseled out of stone, it doesn’t have a clear-cut face nor does it have color. It is vague but its vagueness is what is captivating. Chishtee manages to give details just by the way the boy is sitting and holding the ball. He relies on just a single small wing to help him fight the gravity of his humiliation. His other sculptures also express themselves through their vagueness. They are like strangers one meets on the streets, people you don’t know, people you will never talk to, but one glimpse of the way they are standing or walking or sitting can reveal how they feel, their actions talk to you, like a TV on mute.
Even his drawings revealed how the ordinary inspires him. Chishtee picked photographs of the war in Iraq from the Internet, photographs that anyone can google for, the ones that are seen everyday in newspapers and TV channels. He took them off the Internet and drew them, keeping what he liked and erasing what he didn’t want to see. He copied a photograph of a US soldier playfully touching the hand of a Iraqi child, but erased the soldiers’ uniform, gun and helmet, leaving him a man playing with a child. He copied a picture of two soldiers eating and sharing tactics and strategies but drew it as two men eating and having a discussion. Chishtee took the pictures and made them human again, erasing politics, agendas and nationalities. He erased the beards on the mullahs, erased nametags, sunglasses and anything that hid the fact that we are all one, naming the pieces Children of God.
Where Chishtee’s drawings are beautiful, the ideas behind them are brilliant and like his sculptures, they are also ordinary common objects that Chishtee gave importance. His work graces the VM Art Gallery till November 4 and one must see it to fully realize Chishtee’s art of transforming the ordinary into extraordinary.