Mariam Suhail finds wisdom in discards

Mariam Suhail finds wisdom in discards

The Pakistani artist explores nostalgia, passing of time and making of histories in the most mundane of things

Mariam Suhails work is inspired by incidental, undocumented minutiae of conversations, media, culture and daily life. In her first solo exhibition in Dubai, Accidental Excavations, the Pakistani artist explores nostalgia, the passing of time, and the making of histories through objects and sights she came across accidentally. The artworks range from photographs and interventions in books to scanner malfunctions and found objects.

I get nostalgic when I see a sight such as an old colonial bungalow being demolished; and that makes me wonder why we get emotionally attached to certain ideas, or react emotionally to things that do not even belong to us. This show is an attempt to dig deeper and analyse these feelings. I hope all the accidental excavations of ideas and objects in this show convey a hint of history and the nostalgia of connecting with the past, the artist says.

Suhail, who was born and raised in Pakistan, is married to an Indian artist and now lives in Bengaluru, India. Perhaps this is why she looks at ordinary things around her with a fresh eye. Her photographic works invite viewers to contemplate the history and emotions associated with the most mundane sights and objects that she stumbles upon. These include a pile of old bricks, the float from a missing water tank, a roll of seasoned newsprint and an unopened gift.

This float caught my attention because the tank in which it floated has been removed long ago. It is broken and no longer serves any function, yet somebody has carefully propped it up and tied it to keep it in place. The image and the connotations of the word float make one reflect on the passage of time, and what this object might be waiting for. Similarly, these bricks were used as insulation on the roof of a house for eight years, and have now been discarded. Because they were part of the life of the house for a long time, they hold a certain history and measure of time within them; and the sight of them lying outside evokes a tinge of nostalgia, even for those who have no connection with the house, Suhail says.

She also finds a sense of history and the passage of time in the roll of yellowing newsprint and a dust-covered, gift-wrapped vase. The vase raises questions about why the gift was never opened, and why it has still been kept long after the owners have forgotten who gave it to them and when. Similarly, there is a mystery and a history inside this deteriorating roll of paper that must have been rejected by a printing press, but was preserved by someone and then forgotten. These long-unused, but still-preserved objects lying in a corner of a house are an allegory for things that stay in your mind for reasons you cannot understand, she says.

Mariam Suhail finds wisdom in discards

In another set of photographs titled Interruptions Suhail plays with architectural elements such as a sloping roof on a balcony and a high garden wall to create images with varying views of the grey structures and the greenery beyond. In a related work, titled From the Collection of Honest Mistakes (scanner malfunctions), she presents a set of scans of a drawing obtained from a malfunctioning scanner, each missing portions of the drawing. The grey areas in the photographs make them look as if they are digitally manipulated, but I took them simply by moving the camera up or down to include different views of the landscape beyond. But the grey patches in the second set were created by the scanner. These works juxtapose the imagery formed through actual human experience of a sequence of events with mechanically created imagery, the artist says. These simple works ask viewers to think about ideas, beliefs, memories and histories that are based on different individual experiences, limited viewpoints or media manipulations.

Suhail often creates artworks in the form of books, and she urges visitors to take some time to go through the books she is displaying in this show. I enjoy this format because it allows you to build a story through a frame-by-frame movement of an idea, she says.

In one book Suhail has compiled various news reports featuring the phrase they came out in droves. The reports about political protesters, concert goers, social activists and religious groups coming out in droves for various reasons present a mosaic of modern society, and the ideas and emotions that drive it. Another book is filled with scientific diagrams based on the artists analysis of the view from her bedroom window, which is perhaps a metaphor for her perception of her neighbourhood and how she might be perceived by her neighbours.

In another book, Suhail has captured an interesting moment from an important political conference held in the 1960s. Here she has used stills from rare archival video footage of Indias first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru climbing out of a window on to a roof to address a crowd standing outside the conference venue. These pictures tell you so much about the famous leader, and the ordinary people waiting to see him despite the rain. This is an interesting, little-known detail from a well-known event, and a nice human moment in the narrative of history, she says.

Leave a Reply