Miniatures: Marking routes
Talha Rathore is a Lahore artist now settled in New York. A 1995 NCA graduate specialising in miniatures, she has made inroads into the international art scene through both solo and collaborative efforts, establishing herself as one of those miniature artists who have dared to ‘subvert’ traditional sensibilities in an attempt to make art work relevant to predicaments posed by present social and political concerns.
Rathore’s current solo exhibition at Lahore’s Rohtas gallery is similar in content to her creative output displayed last year in a group exhibition at the same venue, as well as in the work that formed part of a collaborative effort in the internationally acclaimed ‘Karkhana’ project involving other well-known contemporary Pakistani miniaturists like Imran Quereshi, Aisha Khalid, Saira Waseem, Hasnat Mehmood and Nusra Latif.
In her current exhibition titled ‘Personal atlas’, Rathore continues to use city maps as a backdrop for her intricate markings, and botanical forms; mostly trees and leaves appear in conjunction with other shapes and forms. The artist gives vent to her observations and emotional responses to her immediate environment and her daily struggles in a manner that is sensitive and yet intense, personal and yet almost political in its ramifications. The ‘diasporic’ dilemmas, the pain of being away from ones’ roots and in an unfamiliar and, at times, hostile environment and the uphill journey to establish oneself in this space seem to be an almost obsessive mental preoccupation.
In her earlier work, actual maps of New York city formed the obvious backdrop of her visuals, and in fact overpowered her painting and mark making. In the current exhibition consisting of twelve miniatures, the maps have receded into the background, and greater sensitivity and subtleness of aesthetics prevails. The paintings made on wasli, mostly show an earth-coloured background on which botanical forms with delicate and painstaking details are rendered.
Vertical lines (as in a map), made by threads that have been pierced into the paper with a fine needle also form a part of many of the works and the act of stitching the small pieces cut out from the maps is also apparent in some of the miniatures. This alludes to a feminine touch, which is nonetheless both delicate and intense at the same time. It is also seems to be Rathore’s hallmark now, as similar needlework was obvious in her earlier paintings as well.
Amongst the current body of work, ‘A starry night again’, and ‘ Promises of spring’ are particularly eye catching because of the deep and effective colours used in addition to the fine patterns and symbols that are a part of most of her artistic endeavour. Rathore now seems more entrenched and comfortable in her ‘home away from home’, and the indignation she had felt in the post 9/ 11 world, as a Muslim and Pakistani living in the US seems to have receded into a niche in her psyche.
The new work is thus considerably more lyrical and aesthetically mature, and a sense of focused and contemplative endeavour is apparent. The element of pain and nostalgia is still there, but with a sense of grace and acceptance.