Private View: Thursday 9th of September from 6:30-9pm
To what extent are our relationships shaped or limited by societal and cultural expectations? And how might our body language reveal hidden truths and desires? These questions underpin the latest series of miniature paintings by Rabia Farooqui. For her first solo exhibition with Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery entitled Two Adults and an Attachment, the Karachi-based artist delicately assembles objects and figures into captivating visual narratives that explore the complexities of human relationships.
Farooqui begins by photographing models in specific poses and gestures. These images inform the artist’s compositions in terms of both the bodily movements and the emotional experience as captured by the camera, but her painted figures are always faceless, or rather their faces appear transparent so that the background rises up to the surface. By anonymising her subjects, the artist purposefully draws our attention not only to the physical interactions taking place, but also to wider notions of performance and authority.
Her playful compositions and use of colour reference the language of the theatre and circus while her figures appear almost like puppets suspended in space, creating a complicated sense of tension and even threat. This is perhaps most keenly felt in the artworks that feature wolves, which are both a traditional symbol of guardianship and loyalty, and a potential predator. In the painting entitled Seat Me on a Fruit Platter, for example, one woman is stroking a wolf whose back is arched in an uncomfortable pose while another woman crouches beside a baby wolf seated amidst a plate of grapes. In this way, the composition sets up an intriguing power dynamic that once again centres around performance and the need for approval. It is almost as if the wolves are the souls of the women, revealing their true emotional states. “Animals express themselves in a very direct way, while with humans, you have to peel back the layers to discover the truth,” says Farooqui. Similarly, the depiction of fruit in this latest body of work relates to the act of giving, and wider notions around care and tactility.
Significantly, all of the figures in this latest series are adults, but there is something distinctly childlike about their interactions. “There’s this general perception that we outgrow certain desires or types of love, which can ultimately lead to unfulfilled relationships,” says the artist. “I’m interested in exploring how behaviours associated with childhood play out in the adult world.” This is most clearly expressed in the painting entitled Detangle Yourself which depicts a woman sitting on the floor while her mother holds her hair. While we might initially recognise this scene as an expression of love and intimacy, the way in which the mother’s hands are gripping the hair is awkward, and almost violent. Meanwhile, a shadow of a bird with its wings open extends from the sole of her foot, suggesting a repressed desire for freedom or an alternate reality. Elsewhere, birds appear as symbols of both beauty and discipline. In the artwork entitled Flashing Performance, for example, a woman holds open her shirt, exposing herself to two birds. The scene is humorous and playful, but as with many of Farooqui’s paintings, there’s also a powerful sense of vulnerability.
Viewed together, the works in Two Adults and an Attachment serve to expose the tensions that arise from unrealistic expectations that we put on both ourselves and others, but at the same time, Farooqui imbues her characters with a great warmth and humanity that enables us, as viewers, to find a deeper, more intimate connection with the image.