The moralist-realist eye Iqbal's construction of 'the innocence'
Distortion of the human form opens up the possibility of abstraction in painting; and in the exhibition titled 'Innocence and Experience', where artist Muhammad Iqbal showcases his recent yields, we seem to detect an ambivalent relationship between the representation of the human form and the abstract possibility of the picture plain. In conceiving the two as one, the artist has somehow problematizes the valence through which such language of art is to be transported into the public domain.
The expressiveness often encountered in German expressionism as well as in some form of late cubism has a weak hold over the artist's recent oeuvre making his area of exploration -- especially the pictorial possibilities – rather uncertain. In order to give precedence to the innocence of children – Iqbal's chosen subject matter – his tactile techniques and the method of representing children's faces forge a relationship out of which no sense of vitality flows. It is an element that has the potential to transform matter into force and shapes and forms into visual metaphors. But the artist does explore the quality of the picture plain and successfully demonstrate that painting dexterously is his actual line of action.
When we compare what is on the platter and what are its the possibilities, especially the subject matter on hand, we realize that Iqbal's art withdraws from the reality/outside showing a deep attachment to the nostalgia of a personal dimension. It is neither threaded to the intense emotion any person may feel about his/her childhood, nor is it embedded in the collective psyche. The symbolic values that the visages carry for their creator fails to muster an outward transmission of their aura as they seem to lie in an impasse causing the emotion to remain muted and intellect to become mimed.
In art, such personalized symbolic values are presented at the cost of a reduction of the reality. With the series of recently done pictures such as 'Artistic innocence', 'Facing You', and 'Expression' or 'Language' – the bisyllabic or monosyllabic titles for which he displayes a weakness – his art has been considered an illustration how the colours red, black, white, and blue take the centre stage. Muhammad Iqbal presents the 'seen' and 'unseen' models using faces of a fearful and helpless child, which he proposes as a point of departure from his earlier works that often used to bring forth the joy of life through representation of the mendicants or sadhus.
After a long hiatus in Japan, where he had studied art for the past 10 or so years, completing his master's and a doctoral thesis, now the artist displays a perfection of his craft and seems rather inclined to use a pictorial method which puts strangely realistic (or naturalistic, to be precise) faces against a backdrop that is meticulously treated with textures and brush marks. For him the 'seen' is purposefully deformed in order to evoke the unseen. The faces of children, though conceived as a dramatic element which holds the potential to be loud, are made almost voiceless, divested as it is of its dialogue proper. In fact, the dialogic possibility is put under the restraint of a well-honed technique of representation that renders the superimposition of duel faces as well as duel or multiple pairs of eyes, doll-like, therefore, rigidifying the entire picture plain. As a result, the naturalism that he draws on no longer seems natural.
To exteriorize the idea of innocence, its construction in the form of a child or its unnatural, engineered expression plunges the project into a hyper-subjective depth, where little hope remains of restoring it to its full glory. The significance of a child in its physical appearance or an image is apparently premised on the perception of the beholder. It is the viewers who construct the narration based on a priory concepts. Therefore, the infusion of subjectivity, appear as they do in the distortions of the faces, debases it from the general perception of innocence. Iqbal's diction, therefore, veers close to what can be termed as a misplaced modifier, and he has managed to issue a whole set of them in this exhibition.
Generalizability is often forwarded as a central tenet of morality, and artist Iqbal also attempts to cast a position from where he is able, to distinguish between innocence and its absence by afflicting his images with a generalized nostalgic craving for faces untrammeled by the vicissitudes of life, or perhaps this was the goal he wanted to achieve. His ethical view on the subject is made clear through the expression he brings into view. But the question remains, does he accomplish this by showing the much-needed artistic verve or imagination? Or is he an artist who is caught between a decision and a perceived notion, as we see the creation of not only a parallel, anodyne reality but one that is embellished with tactile features suited to any purist abstract mode of painting given to achieving a sheen and polish found in hi-end products. In many a canvas, the emphatic presence of calculated daubs and textures seemed to undermine the ethical dimension of the subject matter presented. It is a disguise that a moralist could do without.
Mohammad Iqbal wanted to present the reality of a child in its partial and generalized form by leaving out the social context. Perhaps, an intensely uncontrolled childlike attitude would have served him as an appropriate vehicle for getting closer to that goal. Instead, Iqbal chose not to hold back the emotional surge to display an acumen -- one that works against the spirit of the subject explored.
The exhibition lasted from September 24 to October 12, 2010.
Translated by PROVA ISLAM and Depart Desk