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Between Pictures & Words

An exhibition by Aasim Akhtar & Lali Ahmed

A good retrospective presents an artist’s full career, challenges our preconceptions and encourages us to rethink his or her work and contributions. Last month’s exhibitions at the Koel Gallery in Karachi did just that, shedding new light on two very different photographers: Aasim Akhtar, a seasoned artist/photographer, art critic, author and curator, who presently teaches Art Appreciation at the Fatima Jinnah Women’s University in Rawalpindi; and Lali Khalid, the young Fulbright Scholar who did her masters in photography from Pratt Institute in New York after graduating from NCA, Lahore.

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The exhibition titled ‘Between Pictures and Words’ was perhaps as sublime as the gallery itself, with images that promised to, and then delivered, on tantalizing the senses in the most unique, often pleasantly-unsettling ways—just like any good art exhibition.  Akhtar’s seventeen untitled photographs offered specs of a frozen world; the icy, colorless details from childhood memories of a winter spent in the snows of Changla Gali. Aasim may have captured unremarkable, mundane landscapes like branches of a bare snow-covered tree, footprints in the snow, and icicles hanging from a rooftop—visuals that have otherwise been used and abused by photographers for years—but there is something inherently different and likable about this particular series, with textual tickles like “Water hardens into ice—a little warmth, and it melts” to add smile to awe.

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“What lies between words and pictures is a journey – of charted and uncharted terrains; of moments – embraced and lost that meet in a twilight zone. We are strangers to one another. May my journey illuminate your journey,” read the text written by Akhtar in the invite for the show. Akhtar spent two months in Chagla Gali and Nathia Gali during the winter of 2012 to shoot the series. He chose the location to relive what, according to him, was one of his childhood’s most impressionable times: a family vacation when he saw the snowfall for the first time, and spent a few weeks as a child exploring and playing in the white mountainside.

Lali Khalid
Lali Khalid, on the other hand attempted to capture “light, moments and essence,” and succeeded. Her nineteen poignant images were shot in various cities in Pakistan and in the US, and were palpably more personal than those of Aasim’s. Featuring scenes from her home life, as well as some shots that included a friend or a family member, Lali’s series impressed with its abrupt simplicity and had an intriguing quality that’s indicative of an artist to watch out for. Her photographs strongly projected a serene, ‘moment in time’ feel, and it was in beautifully capturing the natural light filtering through a window to fall on an unmade bed, and two chairs in a photo titled ‘A World Apart,’ that Lali established, in my opinion, her remarkable knack for playing around with light and inanimate objects about the house.

“Mixed between document and a subject narrative, these works portray the way my life looks as it is happening.” writes Khalid about her own work. She combined her photographs with captions containing prose that she extracted from different books she’s read over the years, and made it a point to keep the text elusive and intermittent to encourage her viewers to appreciate and interpret the images in a more personal way.

‘Between Pictures and Words’ was the first joint exhibition between Lali Khalid and Aasim Akhtar and their photographs were displayed in two separate sections of the gallery for ten days from March 9 to March 18.