While today’s national delineations in the Iranian Plateau, the Sub-Continent and Transoxiana have led to states with distinct cultural identities, and with divergent and defining recent histories, these regions and states were for more than a millennia part of the greater Iranian Empire and its progeny, most notably the early Mughals. This shared history is literally and conceptually evident in certain art forms including Persian poetry, which all but belie the contested and often violent history of the region after its fragmentation. It is to this body of art -- Persian, Perso-Urdu and Urdu poetry specifically – which Simeen Farhat has referred for her re-engagement with tradition within her framework of modernism.
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Farhat’s notions of tradition and modernism, or modernity in general, have purposefully countered the more recent commonality found in the region -- that of militant extremism, which in many ways, has also given a Medusa like rebirth to many traditions under pressure from notions of social modernity and artistic modernism. In addition, Farhat has not followed certain subtexts which were subsumed into Pakistani society in the 1980s, but has chosen a more ethereal, a more secular, approach in defining Pakistani identity, the quest for which has managed to perplex for nearly six decades.
Capturing poetry which exalts freedoms of thought, of expression and of gender empowerment, and which endear spirituality and calm, has served as Farhat’s act of defiance. Studying the classism of the poems, and using the Arabic script, while giving the superficial impression of safely traditional aesthetics, are in fact Farhat’s journey into further abstraction, and of espousal of philosophical secularism. By casting words and letters as visual elements, she has transferred the poetry’s dynamism and melodic power into conceptual and visual energies.
Farhat has also paired the female figure with text, trying to depict that representation and abstraction can act as nemeses. These figures are abstracted down to their pure form, devoid of features and hair, and are thus disengaged from their usual burden of identity, and are allowed to translate Farhat’s interpretation of the nexus of mind and of soul.
Farhat’s newer works and various media now firmly live in the domain of abstraction, using the geometrically manipulated forms of the Arabic script to dominate her work in various modular configurations.