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Identity and Sexuality: The Art of Anwar Saeed

Updated on September 8, 2017
Anwar Saeed
Anwar Saeed

Anwar Saeed is a Pakistani painter who was born in Lahore (Pakistan) in 1955. He is also known as a print-maker, for he works in mixed media and print as well. After graduating from the National College of Arts (NCA), Lahore, he completed his postgraduate studies at The Royal College of Arts in London. From 1986 onward, he has been teaching printmaking at NCA. Apart from teaching, he has a flourishing career as artist, for he has exhibited widely in Pakistan,as well as participated in group shows in U.S.A, Australia, Norway, India, Egypt, and Jordan.

GENERAL STYLE

A characteristic feature of Saeed's work is the use of the male figure, painted in different postures. This feature is consistent across almost all his work. Thus, its absence in any painting becomes a rare occurrence. Saeed uses male figures symbolically to talk about human behavior, while also reflecting the male dominant nature of Pakistani society. Saeed also used the human body to emphasize upon different aspects of existence, such as ones relation with their inner self, as well as their outer realities, such as religion and social values. the human body is also used as a vessel to display the conflict between one's physical needs/desires and the boundaries imposed by extremist thoughts in society. These motifs will become much clearer as we explore his paintings ahead.


HOMOSEXUALITY AND MASCULINITY

Homosexuality and masculinity is a recurrent theme that is of central focus in his paintings. According to Saeed, there is a link between art and sexuality, which he expresses in the form of homosexuality through his male figurative works. This also allows him to express the psychology of men, male desire, and their ideas and expectations of masculinity. This is particularly portrayed through the composition, body language, and positioning of the men in his paintings. Hence, this further explains his excessive use of the male figure. Saeed's exhibition, "Pal Bhar Ko Amar, Pal Bhal Main Duaan", a series of eleven acrylic paintings at Chawkandi Art on November 6th, 2012, portray this very theme of homosexuality and its execution.

part of the series Pal Bhar Ko Amar, Pal Bhal Main Duaan"
part of the series Pal Bhar Ko Amar, Pal Bhal Main Duaan"
part of the series, "Pal Bhar Ko Amar, Pal Bhal Main Duaan"
part of the series, "Pal Bhar Ko Amar, Pal Bhal Main Duaan"

CHALLENGING SET NORMS OF SOCIETY

In challenging the set norms of society, and the concept of social responsibility, Saeed ridicules and teases the "righteous guardians of morals" that one has acclaimed, through his paintings.

Habits of Being, acrylic
Habits of Being, acrylic

An example of this concept is seen in the painting, "Habits of Being". In this painting, the man inn the middle is pointing a gun in the chest of the man painted on the left. This portrays a violation of the morals and norms of society, that one has deluded themselves into believing their existence and functionality. Moreover, the man on the right is facing toward the opposite direction, thus, deflecting his social responsibility to help the terrorized man. Hence, implying that the indifferent behavior has become a norm of our society, where evil habits often go unchecked.

IDENTITY CONFLICT AND RELATIONSHIPS

His works also explore identity conflict and the roles of relationship in our lives. He reveals people's confusion of identity, as well as the fact that body and soul are two parts of one's state of existence. hence, if either one is missing, then one goes into a state of non existence. Thus, many of his paintings show his figures in a state of discontent, regarding relations in particular.

Dreams Involving Water, acrylic and charcoal on paper, 2009
Dreams Involving Water, acrylic and charcoal on paper, 2009
Dreams Involving Water, acrylics and charcoal on paper
Dreams Involving Water, acrylics and charcoal on paper

For example, his painting "Dreams Involving Water" (acrylics and charcoal on paper, 2009), show a state of loneliness, depression and discontent in his male figure, through the use of blue hues. On the other hand, his painting titled "Wrestling with an Imaginary Opponent" (acrylic on canvas), Saeed presents an internal conflict. The wrestler is seemingly grappling with his internal alter ego (x-ray image), thus, portraying an identity conflict.

Wrestling With an Imaginary Opponent, acrylics on canvas, 2010
Wrestling With an Imaginary Opponent, acrylics on canvas, 2010

EXHIBITIONS

Anwar Saeed has participated in many shows and has exhibited extensively in Pakistan. Taking a look at these exhibitions will help us obtain a greater understanding of his works, themes, and style.

Some of his works were exhibited at Khaas Art Gallery in 2009. As opposed to being paintings, however, these were mostly prints, made through the process of photo etching. Moreover, the paintings exhibited were also quite different from his usually layered and hued acrylic works.

Photo etching is a process used to fabricate sheet metal components using a photo resist and etch-ants to corrosively machine away selected areas.

"Unborn" (1994), etching/aqua tint
"Unborn" (1994), etching/aqua tint
"Playthings" (1999), painting, mixed media on wood
"Playthings" (1999), painting, mixed media on wood

WHO'S AFRAID OF THEORY?

Anwar Saeed also took part in a group show titled "Who's Afraid Of Theory?", that took place at Poppy Seed, between November 13th-28th, 2010. This show was a "critic-artist collaborative", in which each artist was paired with an art-critic, and thus, produced work together. Hence, this project allowed for interchange between critics and artists on the role and importance of a theoretical approach to art making. Saeed collaborated with art critic Asim Azhar, producing mixed media works, with his signature use of the male figure. Following are images of some of their works.

"The Other Ways Of Love I and II" (acrylics and charcoal on paper)
"The Other Ways Of Love I and II" (acrylics and charcoal on paper)
"The Other Ways Of Love V and VI" (acrylics and charcoal on paper)
"The Other Ways Of Love V and VI" (acrylics and charcoal on paper)

These paintings once again depict homosexuality, the "other way of love".

"EXERCISES IN IMAGINING THE OTHER"

Since Saeed is also known as a print maker, show of his digital prints opened at Canvas Art Gallery, Karachi, in September 2012. In these prints, the body and the posture once again play an important role in portraying the views and ideas of the artist. Although all the prints consist of either pairs or groups of figures often facing each other, the fact that their faces are covered, hidden by undergarments, imply that at a very basic level, these images represent the "individual", rather than the "group". Moreover, the "other" symbolizes the suppressed and forgotten part of oneself. This further explains the covered faces of the figures and their positioning, as they sit/stand, facing and "imagining" the "other (alter ego, inner self), in an attempt to identify and resolve their identity conflict. All this attaches a sense of remoteness to the figures, truly making them about the individual.

Apart from exhibiting in Pakistan, Anwar Saeed's works have also been viewed across borders in international forums, through group and solo exhibitions.

"DUBAI ART FAIR"

Saeed was one of the artists participating in Desperately Seeking Paradise", the Pakistan Pavilion at the "Dubai Art Fair" in 2008. The theme focused on Lahore (a city in the Pakistan's province of Punjab), from where many of the participating artists belong. Saeed's exhibited painting; "Toys Are Us" (2007), is set in 1956 Lahore. It holds the signature tinge of homosexuality, and the deep hues of blue filtered in the figures and the background.

Toys Are Us (2007), acrylics on canvas
Toys Are Us (2007), acrylics on canvas

"HABITS OF BEING"

Saeed was also blessed with the opportunity of a solo exhibition on international waters, at the Aicon Gallery, London, in October 2010.

"Speed of Light is the Speed of Darkness" (2009), acrylics and charcoal on paper
"Speed of Light is the Speed of Darkness" (2009), acrylics and charcoal on paper
The Riddle of Life is Best Solved Upside Down" (2009), acrylics and charcoal on paper
The Riddle of Life is Best Solved Upside Down" (2009), acrylics and charcoal on paper

Almost all the work exhibited have certain features in common, apart from the use of male figures emitting an aura of homosexuality. Firstly, the figures seem to be involved in private acts or rituals and configurations. For instance, men standing on their heads and hands in "The Riddle of Life is Best Solved Upside Down", or the same man (repeated four times) in the act of dressing/undressing in "Speed of Light is the Speed of Darkness". Apart from that, in all the paintings, the men appear to be standing on foreshortened ground, while the atmosphere around them seems to be in a state of twilight (blue hued background). Keeping in mind these features, and Saeed's frequented themes, this series investigates the ongoing internal conflict within oneself, with no resolution offered. This stagnant nature of the conflict is seen in the men's ongoing actions and rituals, with no end or conclusion to it. For instance, in Speed of Light is the Speed of Darkness, the same man repeated four times is in a loop of various stages of dressing and undressing (a conflicting action itself). Whereas, in "The Riddle of Life is Best Solved Upside Down, the men remain upside down. Thus through all this, Saeed implies that such conflicts become a way of life, a "Habit of Being".

Following are some other works from the exhibition. These carry a stronger element of homosexuality.

"Two=One" (2010) acrylics on canvas
"Two=One" (2010) acrylics on canvas
"Together or Otherwise II" (2010) acrylics on canvas
"Together or Otherwise II" (2010) acrylics on canvas

Anwar Saeed has worked prolifically, not only in paint, but in other mediums as well. While his works differ from each other, they never lose their distinctive feature and atmosphere. It is this signature use of male figures and a mellow and blue atmosphere that will always make his works distinctive and immediately recognizable when placed among that of other artists.

© 2017 Fatema

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