SABA HASAN - New Mixed Media Works. Review by Elizabeth Rogers


Detail from Countless Journeys, mixed media on canvas, 2011


Transcending definitions, simultaneously blending the literal and the unspoken, dimensions are blurred. Such concordance enables one to travel without moving an inch, save the blinking of an eye. It affirms the interwoven interplay of art and ritual activity through symbol, image and form. The exhibition of Saba Hasan’s recent mixed media works at Art Konsult Gallery in New Delhi, proffers a visual experience broader than the specificity of components into an ever unfolding geophysical terrains of Indian earth and Urdu script. Hasan traces her inner and outer journeys through this conscious melding of myriad mediums and surfaces.


Hasan’s expansive work, Rivers are born Again, evokes words by Gordon Parks in Suddenly from Somewhere: “These images exist in their own longing…soon things were dissolving into the kind of geography where only imaginations roams. From one place to another a sense of reality emerged. Then suddenly the horizons unfolded to establish their own existence.” (From Glimpses toward Infinity, Bullfinch Press, 1996, p.7)

The realm in which these works exist cannot nor should it be defined by the limited, ill-conceived conditions/structures of the figural and the abstract. In essence, the installations, the boxes and books weave, albeit tell a narrative of multiple beings, based on personal parables and fragments of envisioning. In so doing, the discourse between the object and the viewer, between the texts and the visuals mirror and voice the world, from microcosm to macrocosm. This open-ended process refutes past discourses of Hasan’s work merely as re-narrations of her and the past. These new works invite a collective participation beyond that she earlier created. In so doing, the blend of minimalism on the one hand, with complex layering, labour and time intensive processes nurture a further natural integration which strengthens the peaceful questioning and the pervading ‘sense of disquiet’ which hovers over this exhibition. (Consider the series entitled the Book of Disquiet)


The realities being presented are not frozen snapshots of a specific time but elements of memory, objects, and experiences that come together to create a feeling of a place rather then just a static image. The Embalmed Books 1, 2 and 3, perhaps constitute a more truthful way of expressing what each landscape, both private and collective, engenders in a multilayered sense that is not just about a visual. Something inherently immeasurable, yet evocative in Hasan’s hands is universal, but the media are tactilely rooted.

Here one cites the work of John and Joan Comaroff, of the commingling of the ethnographic and the temporal imaginations. Sensitive to the diverse forces which shape art and the affective articulations of artists, “no ethnography can ever hope to penetrate beyond the surface planes of everyday life…unless it is informed by the historical imagination.“ (Ethnography and the Historical Imagination, Boulder, CO; West view Press, 1992). In Hasan’s piece, Life is Here, an intuitive realm of awareness surpasses pieces of paper and collaged depictions. Similarly Stephen Johnstone claims that the ‘everyday’ is what is overlooked in the world, since the ordinary is at once everywhere and nowhere in particular. The everyday thus located is the place where people creatively transform their world. Allusions to the everyday are about immanence, not transcendence to a rarefied aesthetic realm. (The Everyday. London and Cambridge, MA: Whitechapel/MIT Press, 2008. Series Documents of Contemporary Art)


Two unusual works entitled Large Parchment I and II distinguish themselves in both their brown tonal palette and their form – sort of an enlarged electron photograph of bulbous cellular structure. They harbour the weathering of age and environment, in effect an introspection of the particular. The aging of the material, parchment, appears strongly tactile and akin to stretched skin. However, Hasan reiterates that she searches for doubt, rejects dogmas, and mostly embraces music!


Detail Songs From the Woods, mixed media painting on canvas, 2008


Every work of art causes the receiver to enter into a certain kind of relationship both with him who produced, or is producing, the art, and with all those who, simultaneously, previously, or subsequently, receive the same artistic impression.

Hasan states that she can cut through concepts and draw out the relevant and would prefer to say the essential, the important. Through excavation and recreation, Imagination interweaves symbols, uncovering lost and active layers, even those with culture specific meaning.


Many of her recent creative efforts span a memory of what long since belongs to the past and yet what exists now. This view of time detaches itself from concrete sites of reality, despite earthly elements which bespeak connections to mundane facets of life. This allows her artistic visions to foment more broadly and thereby choose their manifestations. From luxurious marbleized landscapes to smaller work that evoke constructions of Schwitters and Cornell and Basquiat, diverse forms surface. The Installed bookstands and wrapped tomes (Nine Book Installations), convey a sense of reverence and spanned aeons of transmission, without signs of human physical presence in a way that examines the theme of private and public space.


Such objects, combine to form a kind of model that allows its owner to randomly shift between the figural and abstract, onto minutiae suggested in her aerial terrains and cartographic renderings.. At the same time, other actual pieces (Book Fossil and Book Pages, for example) themselves tell a story of personal memories and in doing so shape the character of this world. Upon closer examination, however, by means of fine cuts and folds, other lives – taches of prints, destructive elements, struggle and historic events move above the personal trajectory


Such elements of emotions lie between the figurative and the abstract. In Hasan’s creative world, with their own intellectualised and primal system of symbols, they evolve into a purer form of personal lexicon embodying a very different conception of art. Inherently these compelling creative voices, based not on the reasoning mind but rather on the senses, set to evolve and manifest the underlying, instinctive forces and uncontrollable energies that lie beneath the surface of consciousness.


Detail from The Eternal, mixed media on canvas, 2008