They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. This seems especially true for a recent two-person exhibition titled “Dual Genesis”, held at Chawkandi Art, Karachi. The imagery in the paintings of twin sisters Maryam and Marjan Baniasadi depicts a life closely connected with nature. The small, understated scale of their paintings and images renders the gallery space almost empty, inviting the viewer to revel in the nuances of these delightful vignettes of the artists’ imaginations up close.
Maryam’s compositions of delicately stylized trees and wildlife amid pavements and the most mundane concrete surroundings are rooted in the Mughal miniature technique of vasli washes or the miniature tradition of laminated paper. At a time when art is attracting the attention of onlookers, the calm imagery of the Baniasadi sisters, especially the almost monochromatic paintings of Maryam, stands out as its antithesis. This kind of intimacy with art is rapidly fading, with successful art fairs and major exhibitions having brought a performative and ‘staged’ element into art. Shows like these reaffirm the pleasures of directly experiencing an artist’s skill and sensitivity to their medium, without the baggage of socio-political jargon.
“Dual Genesis” is a synthesis of the distinct stylistic characteristics and imagery of the Baniasadi sisters. Maryam comes from a miniature art background and Marjan from a studio major, both graduates of the National College of Arts, Lahore. The twins moved to Pakistan in 2012, when their father was Consul General of Iran, based in Lahore. Cross-cultural influences permeate their work, as Maryam talks about artists traveling to the Indian subcontinent, particularly during the time of Emperor Humayun.
The imagery of plants growing on sidewalks and other built environments comes from Maryam’s direct observation. She begins by photographing and then lets her imagination create a new space. The process of a familiar, even mundane environment is transformed into a new reality by the imagination of the artist. The almost monotonous palette, she says, is influenced by Persian miniature painting. The minimalist division of space exists in the delicate pattern-infused linear outline, rooted in the Mughal miniature tradition. This subtlety of color, where even color has to be imagined, is no doubt absorbed by cultural factors like language.
Twin sisters, Maryam and Marjan Baniasadi, portray a subtle and beautiful coexistence of old and new in a collaborative show
In the Persian text, indirectness is seen as an artistic style with the aim of achieving respect and indicating harmony in human communication. Persian readers are expected to realize the connotation of a text, and the writer leaves room for his interlocutors for interpretation and reflection. Likewise, Maryam and Marjan insist on giving the viewer the freedom to imagine.
Maryam’s compositions make us wonder what cultural time and space they belong to, or what part of the day she represented. His process takes him into a timeless reality where the viewer must negotiate with the ambiguities therein. This is where the poetry of the work resides. The underlying concerns are the cycles of nature, which she finds in the strangest spaces, like beautiful shrubs, intricately stylized idyllic trees, alluding to change and rebirth. She changes the details of the fauna as she pleases, without any particular tradition.
Marjan’s exquisite oil paintings are in a predominant carmine red, with blues and reds typical of Oriental and Persian rugs. The color red, conventionally extracted from the Madder plant, invokes courage, joy, luck and a vibrant life force. However, Marjan’s reference only exists because of a rug in the artist’s house, which she observed daily. This type of immediate reference does not mean that she consciously shoots or tries to compose certain images, but simply because they are part of her environment.
In Marjan’s oils on canvas there is a beautiful accidental coexistence of old and new. His intuitive response to the age-old tree of life alludes to the sweetness of Persian love poetry. Nowhere else have the charms of natural objects, fruits and flowers, trees and birds, and the sublime been more poetically imagined. Yet Marjan’s imagery remains firmly in the present, perhaps as a silent suggestion that beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder.
‘Dual Genesis’ was at Chawkandi Art Gallery from February 22 to March 3, 2022
Posted in Dawn, EOS, March 20, 2022