The present exhibition of Saba Hasan’s non-figurative art is notable for one important reason. While the figurative veers closer to individual points of reference, the non-figurative encompasses universalities and in work such as Saba’s the individual elements come into play as well, but well within the framework of the universal structure. This exhibition brings into play the different genres of art drawn from a wide variety of disciplines and media: videos, charcoal drawings, collages, sculptures, collographs, photographs and encaustic, encompassing many different artistic approaches.
Her use of linearity, spatial compositions, the moving image, textures, the interplay of light and shade creates a canvas so varied that ultimately it draws the viewer to the essence of art that is the content around which different formal edifices are constructed making each work of art a material entity in itself.
When we speak of the content of art, we do not, as in classical thinking on literature, merely mean the message alone. In the visual arts the work covers far more than merely the literal message. To put it in a modern context, we can use Marshal MC Luhan’s succinct phrase that the medium is the message. In other words, the aesthetic harmony that confronts the viewer is itself intrinsically related to what he or she is struck by from the first impact with a work of art.
Saba’s works, whichever genre they may belong to, carry with them that element of the first strike. It can be a smudge of charcoal, a dash of colour in a layered space of different tones of white and off white. It can be colour emerging from layered applications of different tones or it can be a flash of light in a web of shadow. For the discerning eye these formal characteristics give one the feeling of the light at the end of a tunnel, which provides a visual arousal of hope even in the darkest of surroundings. This comes out sharply in her video where we see reflections on the Dal Lake with the flow of the poetry of Faiz Ahmed Faiz recited by Zehra Nigah, evoking a profound sense of empathy with the human condition.
This element of hope is reflected in the powerful undercurrents that characterise her work irrespective of the medium she uses. Sweeping lines, whorls and the flow of a liquid motion give us the confidence that if running water can cut through stone over time, how much easier is it for motivated people to do the same if they are determined to reach their goal?
Indeed, while the mere promise of motion in a visual illusion in two dimensional space can inspire one, it is the intervention of elements of concrete spaces that become forms in her art and awaken memories in every one of us. The locations vary from New York, Chicago, Paris, Salzburg to Srinagar, Kochi and Colombo, allowing one to enter the basis of her experience and blend one’s own perception with it and this gives us yet another dimension through which we can appreciate her work.
This exhibition reflects the joy and empathy inherent in non-figurative art while not losing the individual character and concrete references of each work as a moment in the life of the artist. It reflects both the present and its germination in the experiences of her past and also in the future in the eye of the viewer. All this is transparent in Saba’s works and reflects the depth of what one can appreciate through her art. This is, in essence, its value.
Suneet Chopra, Art Critic & Writer