While taking a morning walk, have you ever come across a piece of artwork left on the sidewalk, propped up between the garbage can and a discarded chair – its sharp edges not fit for a fragile garbage bag? Who owned it? Why did he let go? Perhaps he was moving into smaller quarters; or maybe he just got tired of looking at it. Will it stop a jogger in his tracks and find a new admirer, or will it be crushed by the indifferent, indiscriminating garbage truck? What about the artist who created this work of art?
Marium Agha wonders about this every time she exhibits her artwork. “Letting go is hard”, she looks across at me as the waitress places her order of French Toast obstructing my view for a second. “Will that be all?” she asks. I nod quickly, not wanting Marium to lose her train of thought. “It’s like giving birth and then falling into post-partum depression.” I take a sip of cappuccino and take it in, transfixed. I had never viewed artwork in those terms, nor had the thought crossed my mind when I had walked through her exhibit in Soho, mesmerized. I listen. You have poured your sweat and emotion into creating a work of art—a one of a kind item, and then you just hand it over to a gallery. They will dispose of it as they deem fit, and who knows who will ‘own’ what was once yours. Will it find a new home in a public place, a private home, a prominent place in the foyer or in the occasionally used guest room? Will they treat your baby with tender, loving care, or stack it away in a dark closet? Will they show-off the painting to their dinner guests, ‘see the imagination at work here…the use of color and imagery…’ or will the guests even notice? I thought about the book I had just published. It has thousands of copies, all original. I didn’t have to deal with ‘letting go’, with loss of ownership, or the thought of it becoming extinct.
Marium’s signature tools are textiles, yarns and thread. She walks through carpet stores in Karachi, Pakistan, looking for tapestries that tell a story, a story of belonging, of belonging to a place, a time, and to somebody. She extricates the characters from the story—the lady seated on a throne, the man seated by her feet—and weaves them into a new setting, in a new age, in a new time, creating a new story. Now the man at the woman’s feet appears to be wanting something else—not love, but lust. Now the woman is no longer a goddess, but a piece of meat, meant to be devoured and consumed. Take another look at 'A Courtier in Love' (above). See that!
Using metal instruments, she pulls out the threads, weaves in new yarn, painstakingly, one thread at a time. Unlike the soft paintbrush, where you can brush over if you don’t like what you see, once you unravel an inch of thread, there is no going back. Paint can be layered; threads will leave its mark. There will be holes in the story. And somewhere along the line, you may prick your finger.
As Marium puts the last stitch in place, threading her new rug, her imagery of the exploitation of a woman’s body explodes in garish red. The picture we behold is bold, prickly, and it stings. We want to look away—the truth hurts. The truth beckons, and I lean closer to take another look, and shudder.
“Letting go of my tapestry is like seeing your body viewed by others.”
As the last of her art is mounted on the walls of the gallery, Marium steps back, and lets go.
Marium Agha’s exhibit runs until August 28 at the Artifact Gallery at 84 Orchard Street, New York, 10002. www.artifactnyc.net Don't miss it.