Faiza Shaikh Painting music on canvas

ISLAMABAD: For artiste Faiza Shaikh, the music never stops. Through her prolific collection of paintings, launched at an exhibition in Islamabad on November 26, Shaikh explores the facets of spiritual desire that lend themselves to an enriching existence, invoking music and verse as an inherent analogy for human awareness.

Based in London, Shaikh’s work relates to a sincere connection between the canvas and her own positive ethos; her inspiration is lifted from the longing verses of Rumi, and from a curiosity about the role of Sufism in a contemporary context.

Her painting titled Pakistan shows Quaid-e-Azam’s portrait wrapped in truck art and Arabic text. PHOTOS: MYRA IQBAL/EXPRESS

Café Soul, a cosy gourmet and lodging treasure covertly tucked away in F-7, made for a sumptuous setting. Guests milled in and out and the exhibition rooms remained populated with chatter and delicious hors d’oeuvres. In the midst of all this activity, Shaikh’s vibrant canvases held their own — her use of bright, solid colours had a Warhol-esque appeal, at odds with her symbolism that consisted largely of images borrowed from Sufi culture. The whirling dervish, who renounces his worldly ego in the quest for religious ecstasy, features most prominently in the artiste’s work.

For Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf’s leader Imran Khan, who launched the opening ceremony, the artiste’s work instantly brought Elif Shafak’s best-selling novel to mind. “The Forty Rules of Love; this work reminds me of the evolved narrative of Shafak in its search for a spiritual truth,” said Imran. In his view, spirituality is intrinsically married to humanity and justice — traits that all intelligent beings strive for.

Shaikh’s imagination has few bounds. Divided into four series, Arabic, Pop-Art, Country and Sufi, the 23 pieces that make up the exhibition are visually explosive, consisting of often diverging images sharing space on a canvas. In one piece titled ‘Pakistan’, Shaikh depicts the father of the nation with Arabic text and truck-art patterns wrapping around the portrait. While Shaikh’s bold, thematically chaotic canvases were largely appreciated; a few onlookers were not as convinced.

“I feel that there is just too much happening within a single canvas and that the different concepts are at odds with each other, in a sense losing the essence of each idea in its own right,” shared an architecture student as she lingered near a painting. She added that the simplicity with which the artiste had encapsulated intricate ideas was perhaps better geared for a Western audience, who is less attached to the symbolism used.

At the other end of the opinion spectrum, another guest at the opening, Mohammad Bilal appreciated the diversity of the work. He highlighted that while his own line of work strayed from the arts, Shaikh’s evocation of the mystic and Sufi was universal and personal at the same time.

Organized by My Art World, an online gallery, and Shaikh’s publicist Freiha Altaf, this is Shaikh’s second exhibition for this collection. Earlier this year, The Music Never Stops was showcased in Dubai. The artiste has also been exhibited at various galleries in London and received a high response at notable auction houses.

The exhibition will run till December 6 at Café Soul, Islamabad.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 29th, 2013.