A unique blend of hard, traditional definitions and soft ambiguities are to be found in the work of Menaka Gopalan and Hiba Schabaz, currently on show at Twelve Gates in Old City to July 15. While the three short films by Gopalan use images of culture like artifacts in a variably personal and historical dynamic, Schabaz works in the 500-year-old tradition of the Persian miniature to create contemporary portraits and quasi-traditional still-lifes.
Gopalan identifies her work as diving into the meaning of rituals and spectacles to investigate or annihilate them while searching for an inner meaning. The repetitions of figures in her films “Break” and “Dream Space” reflect an insistent self-questioning back on the viewer, as does “Marlboro Men.”
“I have adored, idolized, and idealized the men in my family. All I wanted was to be one of the guys. … They had all the power. No one questioned them. They were men,” Gopalan wrote in the statement accompanying “Marlboro Men,” the text of which is partly played on screen during the video.
The issues of socially shaped gender roles and double standards are part of the camera’s hungry eye in these works, which seem to seek out comparisons between authentic experience and its representation.
Hiba Schahbaz’s pen and voice seem to be cautious but evocative, creating firm outlines from which seep beautiful shades of color and brightness. Stripped-down compositions create an atmosphere of quiet for intense reflection in landscapes, from modern-day Brooklyn and what looks like Pakistan of long ago.
Schabahz’s works have a playful formality about them – self-mockingly aping old-fashioned portraits while simultaneously taking on questions of heritage and tradition.
Other painters currently working in Persian miniature, such as Shahzia Sikander and Saira Wasim, have created sensory and kinetic works. Schahbaz, in comparison, seems, as said before, more meditative and yearning, presenting both an exciting aesthetic experience and a personal inquiry into the personality of the artist.
Both artists in this show take on South Asian heritage and life in America at some point in the work on display here, but it is their unique styles that make them exceedingly suited to one another in this outing.
The work of Menaka Gopalan and Hiba Schahbaz will be up at Twelve Gates to July 15. Hours are from 11-5, Weds.-Sat., or by appointment.