THE ART OF SMALL THINGS by Quddus Mirza
In his novel The Museum of Innocence, Orhan Pamuk sketches the character of an individual, who being in love – the unrequited love – collects each and every possible object his lover has used, touched or owned. He gathers, picks and steals cigarette butts, thrown tooth picks, forgotten rings, neglected notes, discarded pieces of cutlery, occasional hair pins, consumed lipsticks and scattered tissue papers. All these to build/fill his collection, dedicated to a love never attained; thus small and insignificant items substitute the presence and personality of his lover. A kind of accumulated portrait!
Actually it is not odd because if we like we can construct a person – someone else or ourselves – through the objects we prefer, purchase, possess – and the way we utilize them. These items bear the mark of our interaction with them. For example, a pair of shoes reveals not only the shape of one’s feet, but the manner of walking, shifting of weight, and strength of its owner. It also indicates the taste, income and social background of its user. So, we make our biographies public with things we buy, consume, decorate and discard. Whole histories of people can be resurrected by these small – rather insignificant articles.
But in some instances, these objects convey more than their possessors’ personality. These denote the psyche of a society, its fabric, its fashion, its fascination. History of objects is the story of human development. From the archaic flint stones to the most sophisticated computers, these occupy the longlist of achievements and hierarchies. These also illustrate mankind’s attempts, struggles and achievements to tame, temper and transform nature for its needs.
Thus the objects in our surroundings – no matter if appear ordinary – are points and codes in a comprehensive catalogue of man’s journey from the prehistoric caves to present penthouses. These embody the history of a struggle, towards perfection, purpose – and pleasure. Today when we pick a pin, a pen, or a pan, we hardly recall efforts towards shaping these – common (but highly useful – rather indispensable) items. Thus, each human invention – or intervention (since the history of mankind is a sequence of altering the order of nature for its purpose and plans) is a testimonial of triumph of mind over material.
In Rabia Ajaz’s work the fondness, fascination – rather fantasy for redundant parts from our daily life – i.e., a light bulb, a switch board, a few electricity wires, a construction pipe, patch of a wall showing built-in electricity fitting, are elements/attempts to remind us, how we are living with these industrial objects – and how these products are also surviving with us! Which reminds of a futuristic short story by Russian writer Vladimir Sorokin “...in which something goes wrong and people are being resurrected partly as household appliances: so someone is part human but they’ve got a fragment of a coffeemaker stuck in their new body.”1
Whether physically a segment, or emotionally attached to it, these objects have made us human. Animals have not invented anything. They fabricate nests, make space for them, but the idea of forming something new – beyond the instinct of the specie is peculiar to human beings. Thus, in contrast to a bird or a bee which weaves its nest or hive in a specific scheme, human beings are free to construct a range of items – from a wheel to a computer chip – for their usage.
Rabia Ajaz recognizes and represents this aspect of our life; in which we are confronted with a light bulb, an accumulation of electricity wires or a switch board. Interestingly the electricity in Pakistan is referred/described as power, so a person who is ‘connected’ with electricity – is also connected with power. Since there are few subtexts in Ajaz’s work which refer to a divide between personal to public, between deprived to privileged, and between informed to ignoramus. Yet more than focusing on these frictions Ajaz concentrates on the reality at close hand – which provides a visual pleasure – despite or in spite of political overtones. Thus, a person wearing shirt with Pakistani emblem or men sitting idle – denote the situation of a country in which multiple realities coexist simultaneously. Referring to our life inside a living quarter or amid a number of people, or being exposed to elements of nature these works relate to multiple interpretation of life in a specific place and time.
Whatever the main force and focus of attention, characteristic that distinguishes Ajaz’s work is her keen eye. Almost like a spy or substituting a surveillance camera she resurrects the details of her subject in such a sensitive scheme that a viewer is transposed to another reality – through her brush strokes. Marks which due to their subtle division of tones, shades and hues offer a range – of a world that is one – but split into continuous variations.
View of a single brick within a gap, droplets of rain on glass, vision of outside from the rear-view mirror of a moving vehicle all transcribe a transient reality, that exists in the realm of senses as well as in the world of ideas and imagination. In the work of Rabia Ajaz, due to her focus on intimate items and intricate details, the world – that large, unimaginable and unsurmountable sphere – unfolds bits by bits, in order to reconstruct and recognise our existence.
Our existence is acknowledged in a different – yet crucial manner in the art of Rabia Ajaz. Most of her work is executed in smaller scale. An insignificant matter in recent past, but an important detail to denote the currents of our times. Scale in the ages have played important role, as in the grandiose palaces huge frescos and mosaics were the testimonies of ruling family/clan/clergy’s power to control the means of communication (since art is a means of communication in any case!), hence overpowering images of sacred and secular entities. But in our times the scale has gone through a tremendous transformation. Now the world of gods, decrees of a leader/ruler not necessarily transmitted through huge images, but in small sizes – surface of mobile phone, screen of an iPad and the canvases of Rabia Ajaz are enough to convey the essence of a human journey that started from nowhere and pleasantly would end everywhere.
1. Art without Death Conversations on Russian Cosmism. Sternberg Press, Berlin 2017 (page 16 & 17)