Maraya Art Centre in Sharjah hosts Zara Mahmood’s ‘Towards Time’ show - GulfToday

Maraya Art Centre in Sharjah hosts Zara Mahmood’s ‘Towards Time’ show

Maraya Art 1

Fleeting imprints of light and wind are embossed in Zara Mahmood’s works. Photos: Kamal Kassim/Gulf Today

Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer

Maraya Art Centre, the non-profit creative initiative under Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq), is currently presenting Towards Time, an exhibition of the works of artist Zara Mahmood (May 30 – Sept. 29). 

It consists of works made in the past decade by the artist where she investigates the parameters of drawing. It is also her first institutional solo exhibition in the United Arab Emirates.

Towards Time introduces Mahmood’s practice with the series Composite (2013 -2014), belonging to a period that marks her preoccupation with overlooked objects and forms that refer to the human body, harking back to a subject matter that was at the centre of her formal training in drawing at the National College of Arts, Lahore.

The acrylic drawings on paper are followed by a new body of work that signifies a shift in her practice; it is also an extension of studying the ordinary that appears in the form of overlooked occurrences.

Mahmood tries to capture fleeting nature by recording natural light and its ephemeral manifestations on different surfaces. A series of visuals that accentuate notions of what was, is and becomes, is provided.


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The images evoke parallels to the rituals and routines that constitute life on a daily basis – something that leaves no physical residue, impressions or marks.

Using different forms of printing techniques on fragile surfaces that are prone to disintegration, Mahmood’s visual language embodies modes of mark making born from videos stills of transient moments. Dr. Nina Heydemann, Director of Maraya Art Centre and 1971 - Design Space, found a historical echo in the works.

“When viewing Zara Mahmood’s works for this exhibition,” she says, “I felt reminded of the early Impressionists, in their plea to capture movement and time in their works, mostly through quick brushstrokes on the picture plane.

“Only that now, in Mahmood’s works, the technological advancements of image composition, aided by video footage, were implemented to further explore the path of visual observations of everyday phenomena.”

Maraya Art 2 A sample of Zara Mahmood’s recent work.

Heydemann points out the salient features of the artworks that include “dancing rays of sun on ceramic tiles, the sunlight passing through ordinary window blinds, the movement of a plant that is sensitive to touch.

“All these things are so ephemeral, we catch ourselves realising that we barely give them a second thought.

Yet in this exhibition, they take up centre stage, raising wider questions of ephemerality, and, ultimately, mortality.” Memento mori they may be, but there is a positive side to it.

Heydemann links the positivity to Impressionism. “Impression, soleil levant” (Impression, Sunrise) painted in 1872 was the title of Claude Monet’s artwork that gave the entire movement of Impressionism its name,” she recalls.

“With her title “Another Sunrise”, (again, the last piece of the exhibition), Zara Mahmood leaves the viewer of this exhibition with a similar mindset of hopeful contemplation on our meaning in life.”

“To see a world in a grain of sand; And a heaven in a wild flower,  Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand; And eternity in an hour.” – William Blake. In a conversation with exhibition curator Cima Azzam, Mahmood touches on an aspect of her work, which, as writer Saira Ansari puts it, tries to see “the splendour of the ordinary.”

“Most people,” Mahmood says, “have seen sunrises; a spectacle that occurs on a day-to-day basis. I wonder how many have paid attention to the seamless gradient of colours that appear and dissolve as the sun rises.”

The piece extracts colour from video recordings of natural light, and instead of showcasing the images, they are described through text on paper. The title of the work is Another Sunrise, and it documents the ever-changing colour gradient of the sky as the sun rises, captured between 4:58 - 5:10 am on June 28, 2021.

The organic link between the artist, her studio and life beyond its walls is reflected in Mahmood’s works. In Ansari’s words, “in an almost lyrical manner, the artist started capturing fleeting imprints of light and wind at different moments of solitude.

“In Momentary, she shares a shadow dance of swaying branches cast on the warm stucco wall of her home, set to the sound of birds chirping. In Frequencies, sunlight filters through gossamer curtains in folds of hazy peach, dappling gently on the wall.

“Noises of the street and children playing in the background seep in sometimes. The content and the use of a personal device to record these moments signal to a specific domesticity that no longer was kept alienated from her artistic expression.

“As one learns, Mahmood isn’t asking for us to imagine a highly conceptual, abstract space; she is pointing towards the splendour of the ordinary.” Ansari also points out the role music and sound play in the works.

“Sound is a significant factor in the new works, though its presence is less about audibility and more about perception: a crispy rustling in the shadows of swaying trees; the gentle burble of the shimmering wave lapping across the beach; the whooshing of the windswept, cloudspeckled sky; lilting birdsong and slumberous, late-afternoon chatter of children.  “Again, and again, Mahmood returns to the building blocks of everyday moments to create a symphony of her own.” Established in 2006, Maraya Art Centre offers innovative programmes through multifaceted initiatives, and public outreach activities including workshops, lectures, talks and other art related events.

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