“Of Space and Substance”

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An Exhibit outside Reality

Jahanzaib Haque

If you’ve ever been held captive by a clear-blue sky, or the intricate lattice of a manhole cover, the work of young photographer, Sara Hashim may be your key to exiting the mundane.

Karachi’s Unicorn Gallery (www.unicorngallery.net) located in old Clifton, has unveiled Ms. Hashim’s ‘Of Space and Substance’ – an exhibition curated by Seemah Niaz and her daughter Soraya who run the gallery.

The show opened on the 19th of July, running till the 25th and was witness to a steady stream of Karachi-ites; ranging from art enthusiasts both young and old, to seasoned buyers and critics – along with the usual pack of local TV cameramen and reporters.

The body of 36 exhibited photographs covers three years of Ms. Hashim’s efforts to capture and frame everyday life, with a whole new outlook. While the images covered subjects extensively from her current base in New York, this budding photographer’s exhibition captured objects and moments from different locations across the globe – but that is only part of the journey.

In Sara Hashim’s own words, her photographs attempt to take the viewer, “away from the media over-load of this modern world… towards gaining a new perspective.” Moving visitors across from the image of a lone horseman falling out of view, to a miniature of an empty park bench, this Indus Valley graduate has managed to do just that.

Her experience in both photography and graphic design literally pushes viewers to take a step back to gain insight into larger, abstract works – while moving forward to squint at intricate details held inside smaller frames.

Hashim’s experimentation has led her towards highly unconventional image sizes, with some framed works resembling Mughal miniatures characteristic of the sub-continent, quite aside from their post-modern context. The undertones of a clash and merging of civilizations is something the artist recognizes as part of her journey of being, “just a girl from Pakistan, who lives in New York.”

While risking criticism with such an unusual theme and presentation, Ms. Hashim’s experimental attempts were warmly received throughout the opening of the exhibition; the most frequent comment being that of a welcome change in the local art scene. Pakistan has yet to come to terms with photography being an art form, which the artist was quick to point out is part of her future challenge and ambition.

A number of visitors to the gallery did express their initial hesitance to attend the event, but said that after arrival and due contemplation, they found their fore-drawn conclusions about photography being re-visited. One British citizen, Georgina Enzer was quick to point out that the interesting subject matter of Hashim’s images helped build the bridge towards aesthetic appreciation.

“Let’s break boundaries” seems to be Sara Hashim’s motif for this exhibition and to that end, it has largely been a success. Her work has come across as a bold attempt at something new, which is not always common for a first solo exhibition.

The Pratt Institute MSc student also offered her work for modest prices ranging from Rs 1,400 to Rs 12,000 for larger pieces – which is a refreshing change from the exorbitant prices one usually finds at such showings.

Hashim, who was brought up in Karachi and Islamabad, graduated from the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture where she was first drawn into her present world of imagery and typography. She cites her mentors, Farah Mehboob and Amin Jaan as key figures in her growth and development as an artist.

Sara Hashim now resides in New York, but makes frequent trips back to Pakistan to visit her family and gain fresh perspective. While leaving the future a mystery, much like elements in her work, the promise of further exhibitions in Lahore and Islamabad have not been ruled out. However, for those interested, some of Ms. Hashim’s photographs can also be seen from her website (www.sarahashim.com).

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