Review by Subhra Mazumdar
April 15, 2018


Hashiya: The Margin
Alexander Gorlizki, Desmond Lazaro, Ghulam Mohammad, Nusra Latif Qureshi,
V. Ramesh, Gulam Mohammed Sheikh, Manisha Gera Baswani, Nilima Sheikh,
Yasir Waqas and Saira Wasim
March 31 to April 24, 2018
Anant Art Gallery,
Bikaner House, New Delhi

For most viewers of the recent of Anant Art Gallery on ‘Hashiya’, the word held a certain mystique, to say the least. An unfamiliar term in art terminology of our times, it was commonplace in the times of miniature art as it signified the margin that surrounded these works. But this was not all. The owners of Anant Art in their exhibition titled ‘Hashiya’ took the meaning to a higher level by enhancing the presence and significance that a border can play to a work of art by using a group of artists to showcase what artistic meaning they would construe from the term, in the light of their individual practices. The result was a remarkable offering of highly original and refreshing works where the margin surround of a work became the vocabulary for them to communicate their inner feelings to their viewers. Also, the manner in which it was used, by breaking down the ambit of a tight laced border surrounding an image, gave ample evidence of the enormity of abstractions that can sometimes speak larger than the art within its confines. In short, the margin was not a limiting factor for these artists, but rather a take-off point for individuality and on to a higher plane of thought hitherto held in the background by most of them.

Even more meaningful was the inclusion of a talk by Dr B.N. Goswamy a leading authority on Mughal art and other fields, whose insightful study of the types of Hashiya, ranging from simple finger prints on the margin to exquisite miniature patterns and geometric formations, threw light on the unbounded possibilities that this boundary can throw up for original art practices. Likewise, the modern take on this ancient tradition too, featured this emphasis on originality opening up viewer visions into seeing art not in a bound perspective or in an unlimited originality, but in a challenging format of unbounded boundaries.

Of note was the artwork of Manisha Gera Baswani who has treated the Hashiya as a panel sans the main artwork. Thus the hashiya has become the centrepiece of her art and the main portrayal is as foggy form and in the distance much like the traditional watermark of a Mughal miniature. This transposing of designated roles is further enhanced by giving Hashiya a raised viewing perspective in the frame in a ‘bas-relief’ of sorts. As for its subject of interest, it is a distinct departure from the erstwhile miniature as the birds on the powdery painted surface show a design elegance that is soothing and colourful with poetic makeover, where vision and mental make up undergo a delightful exercise of spotting the variety of forms that lie tucked into the margin and pop up on the sense in the most unexpected corners.

The works of artist Ghulam Mohammed in this exhibition treated Hashiya as a continuity of the main text with only a white space of geometrical severity separating the two segments visually. The Hashiya therefore was not confined to the sidelines but became central to the viewing angle and denoted, in the artist’s own words: “Whispers from the outside world which travel inwards and echo the main subject in a contextual voice.’ Those words in the Hashiya require a proactive interpretation for they are actually alphabets that are the basis of our words and even though fragmented and scattered they have an aura of gathering together in the visual mindset

In the case of artist Alexander Gorlizki, the miniature connection is not far to seek. That does not construe that his works are a modern take on the ancient tradition. Rather, they are an allegorical interpretation of what his predecessors had conjured in a sort of metaphysical plane, where Khwaja Khizr for instance, rides through the pictorial space on a fish and a man sits on a bench while a flowering tree of gigantic proportions sprouts from his torso. These and more, dream like scapes invoke inquisitive interpretation and a fresh look at the picturisation on the surface. Easing the visual interpretation process is the clear graphic outline of his images, which leave a spruced and defined effect on the surface, delighting the sensibilities with its well-ordered placement. As for the margins, the artist seems to have deliberately veered away from toying with the placement but has given free rein to the imaginative genius brewing within, to create fantasy and even comical sensibilities out of the chosen images, making the entire painterly episode a fun-filled saga.

Coming up close with the works of artist Desmond Lazaro, one is struck by faceted looks of the centre space in the Hashiya. Elsewhere the central geometric shape worked with the fine strokes of geometric lines sets the mind turning inwards. The black darkness of the Hashiya lends itself to a narrative of home, and dislocation, an oft expressed thought process among a variety of artist thinkers. Perhaps the stark emptiness of the Hashiya also expresses the need for change and definitely a need for introspection into this phenomena that has marred and merged human identity across the centuries. The neat lines of his drawing skills are evident in every angle of the work.

Though located far away as Melbourne, it is clear that artist Nusra Latif has kept in touch with her homeland through her art. Thus her free flowing circular depiction of the Hashiya in gold and blue with a strong stress on adornment, makes her works hark back to the traditional original but instead of clear pictorials her works are free flowing with fire breathing dragons and birds of prey with angry talons, to say the least. The works seems to evoke the shrill sounds of these prehistoric creatures but in the din of their screechings, the ties with the homeland are never lost in the distance. Thus the sense of connect in the works are her masterly stroke.

V. Ramesh and his dedication to the sage Ramana Maharishi has been given voice through his artworks. The sage in his unadorned and purist form, shines out of the canvas in supreme simplicity and close detailing. The work has the serenity of a prayer as the sage is placed in the centre of the painter’s space and given a surround of contrasting vermilion, making for a delightful suggestiveness both technically and artistically. The message of serenity and the realization of the truth through such encounters override the purely artistic yardstick for judging the merits of the work. In the midst of experimentation, one seems to touch base with the true spirit of art through such depictions. Fortunately the artist has not been carried away with his central aspect and has taken  infinite pains over his Hashiya, giving the work a fine balance.

When the allegorical is made a subject of art, the possibilities that it engages with are infinitesimal. that is precisely the case with the work of artist Saira Wasim in her work, ‘In Guns We Trust’. The work presents a modern take on the disastrous effects of prolonged wars and destruction through its allegorical garb. The acts of senseless shootings are assaults on innocence as envisaged in thr work in placid tones of beiges while the Hashiya is a stark contrast of midnight blue highlighting the central figure in diabolical supremacy. In her work ‘Silent Plea’ the central image is Biblical with a Madonna in the space under a holy halo. But the scales in the arms of baby Jesus is gory with a weighty side tilted with the load of guns and a fetus form in the other. Words are silenced in the starkness of her message making capacity in such works.

The master artist Gulam Sheikh’s ‘Majnun in the Margin’ a part of the series on neighbourhoods that this artist has proffered in several offerings, the city’s lanes lead from nowhere to nowhere. The desert is home and wild beasts are man’s companions. In this Wasteland of sorts, there can be many interpretations with each closer look. Visually the work has stretched the idea of the hashiya to another level, removing its conventional outlay into one where the colour blotches intrude visibly calling for a literary interpretation of the Majnun concept.

With artist Nilima Sheikh’s works one is brought back into a fresh way of viewing the Hashiya, not as a boundary but as a process of extension, beyond the boundary of a wall or other strictures. Her works evoke different meanings and recall the past through a commonplace door or an architectural outline of a house. There are moments of re call, need to have a closer peering into the detail, all the time engaging with the message as with the artistic medium of the work.

This exhibition therefore not only threw up many forms of artistry but also examined a simple tradition in a modern light. It threw up infinite possibilities and invited the viewer ship to return again and again to the newly spruced up premises of Bikaner House gallery for yet another look at this original and engaging showpiece.