EXHIBITION: New Paintings
ARTIST: SALMAN TOOR
April 12, 2019 – April 22, 2019
Gallery: O Art Space, Syed Maratib Ali Road, F.C.C., Lahore, Punjab
Author: Talal Faisal Ismaili, Visual Artist
Numerous Pakistani artists living abroad have contributed significantly to the global art scene by producing quality work over the years, earlier ones including the likes of Rasheed Araeen, Anwar Jalal Shemza, Iqbal Geoffery and a few more.
In comparison to them, today’s generation of diaspora artists is at an advantage. As a result of globalization, advanced communication and an upsurge in social media, they tend to seek better opportunities and substantial recognition despite their nonwestern backgrounds. It would be fair to say that the current lot has a greater representation of women artists, primarily because of the Neo Miniature the movement that attained ample appreciation and endorsement worldwide.
But there is another offshoot of diaspora artists who never achieved formal training of Art in their own country, instead completed their degrees abroad and undertook the journey to connect with their roots. Their education and training abroad have helped them look critically at the local art tradition and bring in influences and practices that are only adding to the variety of contemporary art in Pakistan. One such exciting prospect is Salman Toor, a Pakistani born artist based in New York who did his undergrad from Ohio Wesleyan and further on pursued his Masters at the Pratt Institute, Brooklyn in 2009. Since then he has had several solo exhibitions in the U.S, including one at the Aicon Gallery that specializes in contemporary works created by emerging and established Indian & Pakistani artists.
Drawing inspiration from Classical Western painting, Salman’s enticing compositions depict scenes of queer brown affinity, complex scenarios, and pally encounters. He takes the intimate and social fact of alternative sexuality as his dominant subject, articulating the everyday life, emotional states, fantasies, anxieties and aspirations of the homoerotic self. Thus his image making comes from the way he observes his immediate surroundings and responds, as every artist does. But in his case, it’s exaggerated documentation of time, space and arrangement of people. In a way, the artist secures the role of a reporter, a liberated being originally belonging to a repressed conservative society that fails to acknowledge queerness and is held hostage by politics of illiberalism. His figures resemble caricatures straight out of fiction but portray local people with fragile physiques, exaggerated features, and flaws, attempting to transform the real into the imaginary. Toor’s intention to make his characters occupy the foreground in splendid attires is, in fact, an act of validation or endorsement of queer men of color that have otherwise effectively been extirpated from Art history.
After having done a solo two years ago at Canvas gallery, one of the renowned art galleries in Karachi, recently O Artspace in Lahore opened it’s doors to the public for another solo exhibition by Salman Toor titled “New Paintings”, new for us the viewers but fabricated from experiences and memories of the artist. Toor sees himself and his friends in the characters he paints, the activities they are indulged in and the state of mind they’re in.
A work of his that you encounter as soon you enter the space titled “Ghost Story” is a dark, gloomy emerald green background with a single source of light on the table in front that lights up the faces of his characters in the foreground, relaxed in terms of postures but characterized by a profound sense of bewilderment. In comparison, the characters in the background seem content and involved in some activity on the phone. The play of red, speaking in reference to the attires of two characters at either end of the picture plane seems like a conscious decision in an attempt to direct eye movement of the viewer across the surface as red pops up on the green, both complimenting each other.
The piece titled “After Party II” is similar to “Ghost Story” in terms of palette, which illustrates leisure time in a cozy little space, the characters seem to feel comfortable in their surrounding graced by each other’s presence. Notions of privacy amongst them cease to exist at all and thus the lines between individual and collective comfort seem to be blurred. The stillness in postures of people at either end is balanced by the frenzy created by the two characters in the center.
“The singers” another scintillating composition depicts a scene in an outdoor setting, two guys sitting on a wall at an elevated position singing songs, getting amused themselves and lifting the overall mood of the scene. The three characters underneath are engaged in a casual conversation, one of them keeping an eye out to the singers above. The meticulous brushwork distinctive to Toor’s signature style absorbs all attention along with slight imperfections such as blemishes and scars that become more evident on close examination.
In comparison to the crowded compositions discussed earlier, “Best friends” is a much tranquil piece that portrays two queer brown men seated next to a ledge in a privileged-looking apartment sipping on cocktails, smoking and indulged in a private conversation. It’s quite noticeable that both tend to connect to each other at a deeper level and the strong bond that they share makes them feel less vulnerable against hostility and oppression from the world outside, despite being miles away from home.
Salman’s proficiency at concealing the radical nature of his art in the guise of ludic eccentricity or the stylized whimsicality of every day is simply overwhelming. Also compelling was the manner in which Toor displayed all of his pieces, enclosed in sleek and simple wooden frames, irrespective of them being painted on canvas or panels. This encapsulation of paintings adds to the dignity, honor and protection that he wants to give to his creations.