LONDON.- Hamra Abbas will exhibit a series of new works, including a new vision of the female super-hero at Green Cardamom this autumn. The works exhibited by the artist explore ideas of militancy, fuelled by the atmosphere of violence and despair pervading both her immediate context of Pakistan but also elsewhere, through the spiralling culture of violence.
The artists cross-cultural take on the super-hero genre is her monument to the potency of a benevolent yet assertive feminine power in a world reeling from the effects of militant violence, perpetrated largely by men.
Abbas female super-heroine stands voluptuously at two meters tall. Clad only in a cape that looks vaguely like a burka, brandishing a stick and made from shiny, black fibreglass, this proud, sculptural figure is the Woman in Black. Abbass buxom sculpture, plays on the iconic press images of burka clad women yielding sticks as weapons when Islamabads Red Mosque seminary was stormed last year by government troops.
Far from ridiculing these women or offering trite comment on the veil, the artist embraces the idea of woman power, through the empowerment offered both by the veil and female sexuality. A world away from the Western image of the Muslim woman as victim of a male world, Abbass Woman in Black is far closer in type to figures such as the triumphant Ancient Greek figure of the Goddess Athena.
Abbas frequently takes a playful look towards widely accepted traditions. She is known for appropriating culturally loaded imagery and iconography, and transforming it into new works that may be experienced spatially or temporally, and for creating new platforms from which to view notions of culture, tradition and exchange.
During her 2006 residency at Londons Gasworks studios and the V&A, Hamra Abbas made the digital animation Battle Scenes, also to be exhibited at Green Cardamom. Following the layout of figures from the 16th Century Imperial Mughal album The Akbarnama (c.1590), housed now at the V&A, and depicting a battle between the Emperor Akbars army and his enemies, Abbas used photographs of ordinary people in Londons Hyde Park, whom she asked to re-enact the violent gestures of the figures in the original, and then animated. Abbas version of the battle depicts an array of figures of different ages, genders and ethnic backgrounds, dressed in jeans and T-shirts, posed warrior-like against a black background. While formally Abbas references the composition and perspective of the miniature, bringing these into the contemporary media of animation, the work also interrogates and parodies the traditional depiction of the glory of war, highlighting instead its absurdity.
Despair: A Love Story, also to be exhibited at Green Cardamom is a work in her signature collage, where she uses colour for the first time. This intricate paper collage, inspired by Islamic geometric patterns, spells out the word Despair and is made of thin strips of paper, printed with the word Love. Here her use of colour contrasts sharply against the word spelt out by the collage. Hamra Abbas will also be part of a major exhibition at Phillips de Pury this November, showcasing a select number of artists from Pakistan and India. Here, in collaboration with Green Cardamom, she will exhibit Its a Boy. This is a set of four fibreglass baby boys, each just over a metre high and produced in yellow, black, white and terracotta (the four colours of man). Each giant baby clutches two snakes, inspired by the packaging of Woodwards Gripe Water, and also reminiscent of the baby Hercules strangling the two snakes, and the Hindu legend of Krishna and Khalia, the many headed snake. In both contexts, the work alludes to the cross-cultural myth of the invincible boy child, in a manner typical of Abbas irreverent and light humour. She will visit London for the openings of both shows.
Hamra Abbas was born in Kuwait in 1976, and now lives and works in Islamabad. She studied at the National College of Arts in Lahore, and has exhibited widely internationally in Asia, Europe, and the USA.