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By Dr.Christine Bruckbauer
Farrah Mahmood Adnan has a marked penchant for beautiful paper. Many of her images are painted on a specially treated wasli (handmade layered paper used by miniature painter). She applies decorative papers as the last layer of the painting subsurface or creates the so-called marble effect over it. The structure of these papers becomes a part of the composed scene, like the formation of a landscape or a decorative frame for the central composition, ostensibly hinting at the historical hashia (illuminated border). Instead of filling the entire composition-field with her painting, the artist nowadays chooses to depict small, independent motifs. The pattern of the decorative painting surface connects and integrates them into the typically dense character. One is tempted to interpret this as her way of dealing with an inherent horror vacui(cenophobia).

At first sight her work appears rather conventional due to these formal characters, but exploring the pictures more carefully, a realm of remarkable symbols reveals itself. With their help Farrah Mahmood Adnan addresses the most critical issues of our age.

A recurring motif is the tree, curious, with strong roots but leafless branches. Like a silent sentinel or a faithful witness, it is always there. A pearl still nestling in its protective shell appears together with her self-portrait but also as an emblem for women in general. In Islamic society the pearl is often associated with the female: unique and matchless, she must be well hidden, just like a precious pearl.

Feminist issues, such as the high rate of female illiteracy in her country, are a major concern in Farrah Mahmood Adnan's work.

But the artist reacts also to the incompetence and corruption of the politicians in Pakistan, by cynically comparing them with marionettes. In her opinion they only act according to their puppet masters who are in reality the superpowers and the ones who pull the strings of the nations destiny.

In 2002 a horrific crime took place in the rural area of Pakistan. A young woman was gang-raped and it was only because of international press reports that the case was prosecuted by the judiciary.(According the Hudood Ordinances, introduced in 1979 as part of the military ruler Zia ul-Haq's Islamization process, a rape victim is considered a criminal in Pakistan). Farrah Mahmood Adnan expresses her agony and sympathy for the victim with a series of poetic pictures. Naming her paintings The Walk of Purity she depicts the footsteps of the woman, who had to parade naked through her village while hundreds watched. (Today Mukhtaran Mai is one of the spearheads in the fight for womens rights in the country culminating in the revision of this misogynistic law only last year.)

An unusual takes place in the series of works Farrah Mahmood Adnan produced during her artist in residence programme in Vienna in the Spring of 2006.

Impressed by the splendid history of the former Great Empire and its monumental buildings she starts to expand her previously rather homogeneous pictorial world.

The likenesses of Emperor Franz Joseph (1830-1916) and the tragic figure of Sissi (1837-1898), both images extensively exploited by marketing and advertising companies, bear witness to Farrah Mahmood Adnan skills in portraiture. Viennese landmarks, like St. Stephens Cathedral, St. Charles Church, or Friedrich Hundertwassers biomorphic architecture are newly discovered subjects which are depicted with extraordinary diligence. Detached from their original context and combined with motifs from the sub-continents book and album painting, such as the fighting bulls, the delicate neem rang portrait of a Hindu princess, Arabic calligraphy or the application of gold leaves in the background, they look alienated. Content-wise, the spectator is slightly confused, since there is hardly a traceable connection between the motifs.

However, syncretism, or the blending of disparate cultures and beliefs has a long tradition in the art of book and album painting and celebrated its zenith during the reign of the Mughals, who liked to surround themselves with Christian symbols, like Madonna depictions or the attributes to the apostle, to enhance their aura as semi-divine rulers.

And I dare to say that it was just that tolerance and interest for other styles, cultures and religions that gave rise to a remarkably prosperous realm, where artworks of the highest quality were created.


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