On Art

The Painter and the Sea

2010 | Lala Rukh's Hieroglyphics series at Koel Gallery; Newsline, Pakistan

Lala Rukh’s latest works bring home oceans, especially to those who have known only a single sea. Millimetre by millimetre, she pulls forth illumination, pushes it under, teases as she makes another stark point. Drawing with iridescent paint upon a base of carbon, she presents a black to make black itself seem grey; darkness so deep it can only be home to light.

Based in Lahore, Lala Rukh understands the ocean as only those separated from it can. She now brings over 30 years of reflection into these reminders of what creates sight. Subtle glimmers—epiphanies received on the verge of slumber—tether themselves to the horizon. Shifting lazily, tongues of insight or flickers of amusement tunnel with each unfolding motion. On a surface almost solid enough to tread upon, these pathways and codes become a means to their own ends.

On a physical level, the minimalism makes these drawings deceptively simple. A pencilled horizon; dots, scattered or concentrated; tiny strokes coalesced into writhing wisps. The danger with minimalism, though, is that it may not invite you in: Barrenness can be confused with bareness, a radicle with a whole seed, and there will be no sustenance left for feeling or thought.

These are different. Approach them with a blundering, swaggering air and they will slip aside, still standing erect. Walk quietly and they will look you in the eye, coolly trusting. They are contained, unobtrusive yet impossible to miss—and give of themselves with a small smile.

In a time suffused with talk of expansion, of shrugging off shrouds, chains and blinkers, here are works that make no blazing call. That is not to say they are not about revelation, of course. Understood as segments of the artist’s process—exclusive to specific spaces and times—they become an eternal addition to the viewer’s inner dialogue.

28 pieces are on display (two segments, ten sets in all). Extraordinarily, the sequences have an aspect of diminishment without being reductive. In one, light trails down, collects itself and springs: The sea flings stars into the sky. In others, elements live out their cycles: The moon, visible but always unseen, calmly traverses the sky. Swathes of shadow could be epilogues or preludes: The light speeds home, gifting darkness, but just over the horizon it will be pouring itself out. Here, a spangled ocean belays its darkness, there, dimensions shift entirely; what, really, reflects what?

Lala Rukh’s works have rhythm. As stand-alones, they vibrate hypnotically. As sets, they shift and take wing. Simple changes become immensely meaningful: Same size, different place; same place, different size; so, too, the play between intensity and shape. These markings simultaneously reach out like banners, beckoning lazily, and travel their course within and beyond. They are invitations to descend and float; to seize the opportunities of another lightness, another plane.

Many years ago, the artist was making lines that became codified, almost calligraphic. Then came detailed but abstract representations of the ocean. Now, her impulse for eliminating excess has brought her here—here, where believing is seeing. Here, where glass melts and silvers ones insides; as she observes, there is always, always a horizon.

2012 | Ayesha Siddiqui at Koel Gallery; The Friday Times, Pakistan

Pehli Manzil

2016 | Interpretive texts accompanying a 14-person show | Site-specific works in an old, uninhabited apartment; Karachi, Pakistan
Pehli Manzil (e-book of accompanying text).pdf