The Exhibition

Zulfiqar Haiderali

First appeared in Dawn

Poster: The ExhibitionI’m no art connoisseur. In fact, I can’t even tell colours as basic as vermilion from burnt ambergris. So inviting me to a fine art thesis exhibition at a local art school was like inviting a postman to a seminar on thermonuclear energy. Nevertheless, I took it as an opportunity by thinking it’s about time I started developing taste for finer things in life.

Filled with enlightening anticipation, I paved my way through the throng entering the entrance and pompously stared at the paintings and collages and etchings and sculptures and Godknows what else.

"I should move slowly and ‘study’ everything in detail," I said to myself, and started clockwise from the left.

Moving closer, I looked closely at.... well, the closest thing I could resemble it with was a piece of badly crafted welded iron grill. "Hmm...," I squinted to see two arty ladies feasting their eyes on that piece of art. Copying their look, I then spotted a zesty girl who had apparently ‘conceptualized’ this masterpiece. I called her.

"Excuse me, miss... er... would you...," now hang on a second, I thought. I shouldn’t make a fool of myself by asking what on earth it was. Let’s be a bit eloquent.

"It looks quite implicit and obvious, but what would you say it personifies the best?” I asked her with sheer indulgence.

"Well, you see, like, this is my way of letting my anguish out, like, um, you know, the inner self of a person sometimes begs for can’t get out, so like, I’ve tried to materialize this inner self."

Good God! I thanked her and smiled politely as if registering every bit of her artistic description in my mind.

A few steps from the welding masterpiece, there hung a series of paintings by a modestly chic young artist. Now, I don’t mean any disrespect, but even after about fifteen minutes of rigorous study, I could only decipher a shape which conspicuously resembled a huge, distorted gem-clip! Now the poor chap misjudged my intent observation and started describing his work. Alas, it went a little too further than that ‘inner self’ girl.

I managed a few thoughtful nods and moved along the path -- only to be stopped with a jerk.

In my front stood a giant, abominable eight-headed monster, with its legs protruding out from his neck and ears in place of feet. Oh phew! It was only a ‘depiction of surreal ignorance’, as so very aptly and enthusiastically pronounced by its creator. Honestly horrified, I was about to marvel at the creature’s nine belly buttons when something caught my eyes.

At last! A perfectly comprehensible piece of art hit my sour eyes: An ineffable, psychedelic rendition of Malcolm X done superbly in pastels.

I was so thoroughly mesmerized that I completely ignored the pretty paintress watching me with rightful pride. "Simply outstanding, very impressive,” I commended her and she smiled thankfully. Then I confided: "In fact, this is the only piece of art in this whole room which I’m able to grasp without having any guilt of being an art-illiterate.”

She nodded understandably. With sheer respect of talent, I now asked her: "But you must tell me, miss, what actually inspired you, motivated you to combine your sleek handiwork, your lucid, vivid imagination and your exquisite colours to craft this immaculate portrait of Malcolm X?”

"Err...what X?” She asked, seemingly confused.

"Malcolm X, of course, ha, ha!” I gave an understanding laughter.

"What’s Malcolm X?” She asked angrily. Now it was my turn to be confused.

"Malcolm X! The subject of your painting, the legendary Malcolm X, the beacon of light to black Americans, the...”

"Is this your idea of making fun of me, mister?” She charged in. Some nearby people turned around.

Holy creeping crayons! I thought. But then what the heck was it?

"I am really sorry, er... I meant no disrespect. I actually mistook this. I apologize." She cooled down a bit and walked away in exasperation. Phew!

I looked at the portrait again. I could’ve sworn it was nothing but good ol’ Malik Shabazz. Well, to spare any more embarrassment, I quietly slipped out and headed home.