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Paradoxical Protagonists

A labor of love is shown in the artist’s 17th pieces of work, where laborious technique of etching to construct large scale images of well known childhood characters on a surface not commonly used in this field

Fost Gallery’s new show opened on Friday night in the beautiful location of Gillman Barracks. Titled Protagonists, it is a solo show by Pakistani artist Adeel uz Zafar and features 17 artworks. The exhibition will run till 01 September 2013 and is well worth a visit.

Adeel, who trained at Pakistan’s prestigious National College of Arts in Lahore, uses the laborious technique of etching to construct large scale images of well known childhood characters on a surface not commonly used in this field. Vinyl or what we commonly know of as linoleum is the base for his work which is layered in black acrylic to make it sensitive to his mark making. Using a variety of tools like scissors, cutters and knives to score into the vinyl, he meticulously crafts his protagonists. Once made, each mark is permanent- the only way to rectify being to cover and manipulate the lines further. His subjects are familiar childhood objects in the shape of plush soft toys which he buys from a popular Sunday Bazaar in Karachi. Magnified many times over, Adeel’s heroes are wrapped in gauze bandages, sometimes tight and constrictive while at other times loose and breaking free. The folds of the bandages are beautifully rendered, gouged into the vinyl sometimes lightly and sometime deeply to create depth on a two dimensional surface.

Adeel Uz Zafar, Protagonist (Kong and Godzilla) diptych, 2013, Engraved drawing on vinyl, 40.64 x 30.48 cm (LR)g Adeel Uz Zafar, Protagonist (Kong and Godzilla) diptych, 2013, Engraved drawing on vinyl, 35.6 x 30.48 cm (LR)k

Laden with historical, political, and philosophical connotations, Adeel’s works are paradoxical on many levels. On a formal level, the black vinyl background is distinct from the etched white and the reality of the small innocuous soft toy contrasts sharply with the artist’s portrayal of it on works which are up to three metres wide. On a conceptual level, the building up of layers of bandages, which are used to assuage a wound, contrasts with his technique of scratching and etching to remove layers of the vinyl. Heroic icons are rendered powerless and monsters become benign as multiple tensions are confronted in the works. The diptych which pairs the Western male King Kong with the Asian female Godzilla, emerging from her shackles, captures the East West and male female dichotomy effectively. Another piece features a tusk-less elephant with big eyes and ears and Adeel says it is a metaphor for the media’s intrusion in our lives but its phallic trunk and breast-like orbs also hint at another debate. Adeel’s work also alludes to the current socio political situation of destruction and chaos in Pakistan and is possibly his attempt to heal those wounds and mend what’s broken with his bandages. His sole human figure is a stringy little fellow that resemble a helpless mummy more than a hero.

The artist’s inspiration comes from his own experiences. Upon graduation, he worked as an illustrator for children’s story books in Gilgit which is a remote and scenic area in the Northern part of Pakistan. The lack of traditional art materials there led him to experiment with other media and tools, one of them being exposed photographic paper, which became the source of inspiration for his current oeuvre.

Adeel Uz Zafar, Protagonist (Human), 2013, Engraved drawing on vinyl, 165 x 244 cm (LR)
Adeel Uz Zafar, Protagonist (Elephant), 2013, Engraved drawing on vinyl, 152.4 x 122 cm (LR)

Adeel’s work will resonate with a diverse audience because of the universal appeal of his protagonists and the relevance of the multiple narratives that he binds together in his pieces. The unpeeling of one layer opens up another perspective and leaves the viewer wondering what is really beneath it all.

Exhibition runs till 1st September 2013.

FOST Gallery
Address: 01-02 gillman barracks, 1 Lock Rd, Singapore 108932
Phone:+65 6694 3080
Hours: Friday hours 11:00 am–7:00 pm – See all

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About Durriya Dohadwala (31 Articles)
Durriya Dohadwala is an independent writer on contemporary Asian art and culture. She is also a docent and enjoys facilitating the decoding of contemporary Asian art.