August 30, 2013

an album of prints; collagraphs

the images below catalogue some of my work over the last few years, although they don't show all the series i have worked on. when making collagraphs, i like to work with plenty of texture. i have experimented with cloth, palm bark and various papers, embossed paint and threads embedded in modelling paste, and filler used for dents in cars, among other things. 
although a press is required to get the full benefit of texture from a collagraph plate, i have made some collagraphs using the hand rubbed method by rubbing the paper with the back of a spoon (which i prefer to a baren), or by using a burnisher or even a stylus: i have enjoyed using the latter, and made several prints using this method. for hand rubbed collagraphs i usually use mountboard covered with cotton or silk. i then cut into the board and also add details with embossed paint; usually pearl paint.

this is a collagraph made for a juried show
 in tucson in 2007. two of the prints, including this
one, were selected and sold at the exhibition.
 unlike many collagraphs, which are pulled on the
press, this one is hand rubbed. i added colour
with water colour pencils, and printed the flower
 on japanese paper before attaching it to the cactus
arm. the name is desert rose and the plant is the
saguaro, the national flower of arizona.

this is the first of a series of prints
 inspired by arizona rocks. it's called
 rock: memory of sand, wind, sun.
this is a set of very small collagraphs
which were later used in a book project
 called arizona sunset, photographs
of which you will find under the
 book making label. these collagraphs
were pulled on the press.

arizona suite again. this print later
became the cover print for the arizona sunset book.

this print looks out of place among the 
others here, but i put it in because it
 combines  photopolymer etching,
 copper leaf and collagraph.
it was for a group show 'recession,' 
at unicorn gallery  in karachi in 2009.  

from the memory series, exhibited  at artchowk in 
2012.  this  was a two person show with amena 
bandukwalla, who uses text and drawing
 techniques in her work.  this print combines
 collagraph with graphite, smoke painting 
and hand made papers and a fragment of a moth's 

from the memory series exhibited at
artchowk in karachi. for this print
 i layered papers of various textures, 
some with burnt edges, stuck to 
mountboard. the central motif is thread.

arizona sunset; i haven't exhibited this print yet as i am  still experimenting with inking it. i made one in shades of pink-red as it's on the arizona theme  again, a sunset i saw on the tohono o'dham reservation. this is the bottom-most part, the print is divided into 
three as my press pulls a maximum size of 11 x 14 inches,
 which is the size of this particular sheet.

detail from arizona sunset. i put it in to
show the kind of detail you can get with
 modelling paste, various bark, cloth
(particularly silk) and silk thread, and
 pearl paints which give a raised outline. 

August 26, 2013

night blooming cereus

we had this plant for years underneath the rubber tree in our f-7 house. then it suffered while we were in arizona. finally it came back to us in 2009, a shadow of its former self. we made two pots of the plant and they grew well over the last four years but produced no flowers. then, in june two buds appeared, but it was during those days of intense dry heat when the temperature was over 45 degrees. the flowers shrivelled before they could bloom.

and now these. it's august 26th and i have been photographing the buds since yesterday. they was still unopen this afternoon at 5, but i was sure they would bloom tonight. and just after 10 pm i began taking photographs. i put on the two porch lights, and added on with a flashlight, as i don't like using the camera flash. 

the flowers are faintly fragrant now, but i expect they will be fully fragrant by midnight. or maybe that's just my imagination.

august 25th

august 26th, 5 pm

august 26th, 5 pm: buds

this, and the following, were all taken at
ten o'clock onwards

podcasts from the poetry foundation

over the last six weeks, specially during ramazan, when work pressure decreased and things are generally quieter than usual, i listened to several podcasts from the poetry foundation website. here are some links. 
in june, poetry foundation published a feature on landays, couplets composed and recited by women in afghanistan. i include the link to this too. i am sure you will find it fascinating. 
poetry foundation has many more podcasts, readings as well as commentaries and discussions. browse through the lists yourself!

adam zagajewski and claire cavanagh: this is interesting because it talks about wislawa szymborska, one of my favourite poets:

i also include the link to her cavanagh's article written after szymborska's death:

poets of the muslim world, including raza ali hasan, brought up in pakistan

afghan landays:

August 25, 2013

an album of prints: photoplymer etchings

the prints below catalogue some of my work using photopolymer etching plates.
i use the single exposure technique. when i first learned photopolymer etching i decided that what was more important to continue working and using this technique as well as collagraphs, was a press, rather than the aquatint screen which was necessary to capture fine detail and perhaps depth. both of which were expensive. i asked my teacher if we could use the single exposure method. she replied by saying that the single exposure was what she had first learned, but therafter she had used the screen, particularly for photographs and photo collages. we could try it out and take a chance on the results, as she wasnt sure what we might get. i was ready to do that because i thought that it would be easier to waste a couple of 5 x 7 inch plates and be sure of what i could do. and it worked. the two images below show the first photo collage etchings that i made, a series on the lahore fort. they show details from the naulakha pavilion on the right, and on the left a bastion and stairway from the main entrance area of the fort.
the first image was made using the aquatint screen, i.e. double exposure; the second, using the same transparencies, was used to make a single exposure plate. the third image shows another plate made using a collage of six images: the bridge at the bottom; graffiti on an old wall, a detail from the famous mosaic wall and a filigree stucco window in the centre; and at the top a view of the outer battlements surrounding the main fort. i found this plate hard to ink, and had to experiment with it several times until i was satisfied. i was about to throw it away initially, but luckily i was working out of joan thompson's studio at the time, and she encouraged me to ink it in different ways. 

the single exposure technique gives one areas of great detail while it bites away others, so that in one plate you will find areas of intaglio and relief. this is particularly noticeable in the third image. 
although i now have an aquatint screen, gifted to me by john lingenfelter, who runs bare naked press and jilink studios with his wife irene, i have not used it so far, mainly because i enjoy the uncertainty of the results and the open quality of the resulting plate. except for the top image, all of the prints shown here are single exposures. i like the exposed quality which highlights the erosion in old buildings.

mausoleum at makli necropolis.
this tomb is of red sandstone.

looking out from the mausoleum
of Isa Khan Tarkhan(he was said to
have had the right hands of his best artisans
cut off when they left work on the monument).

looking out of the doorway
 of the room housing the tombs
 of isa khan tarkhan and his family.

inscriptions from unidentified tombs at makli.

in the centre is the tomb of jam nizamuddin,
 which has muslim and hindu architectural motifs.
right: tomb inscriptions from a broken pillar
 propped up against a half broken chhatri
the following three prints are new ones from the continuing arizona series. all of them are single exposure etchings, which shows you that by playing with exposure timings and washout times you can preserve plenty of detail. 
although i prefer to ink my plates in black and white, i sometimes use colour with water colour pencils, or ink the plate a la poupee.
because i often cut my etching plates into small pieces to fit the images i am using, you will find that many of my prints have an irregular edge, unavoidable if you want to play with sizes that differ from the standard plate size.

night blooming cereus


prickly pear, or nopal

August 21, 2013

an album of blocks

although i've posted pictures of blocks before, this album is compiled to show various types of blocks: from thick and thin lines, relief and negative images. 

i enjoy playing with borders, combining them in
different  ways. these vary from 1.4 to 1.7 inches
 wide. they are often used to separate areas with
 large designs, such as paisleys or birds and flowers

i also collect whimsical blocks,
just because they are unusual.
this is a small block, about 3.5 inches high.
i've used it quite often, as a lampshade border

i picked up this block for a song, -
and have used it over and over again,
as it is or in combination with embroidery. 

this is a filigree block,
about 6.5 inches high. 

one of several blocks picked up for a song.
most of my antique blocks were very expensive,
 but this one was probably originally the
carved decoration on a piece of furniture,
as is the one below.
i've bought several like this.
the surface looks a little pitted but it
prints well. 
i like using blocks with 
an irregular and/or top and bottom edge.

as above - probably belonged on a piece
of furniture from the frontier.

floral paisley

i use this block in combination with embroidery.
i also have a square block which features
a vase with a bouquet, and my block printer,
 whose family has practiced the
craft for generations, tells me that it would have
originally been used on prayer mats.

this flower is about 5 inches across. since it's very
contemporary looking i thoroughly enjoy using it. 

i bought the border a long time ago, the
palm tree very recently.  i noticed how
well they  went together just by chance when
going  through my blocks, which i do regularly
 to refresh my memory of what i have,
as well as to look for new ideas or

a very small relief block, about 2.5 inches.
 i haven't been able to use it yet as it doesn't
lend itself well to a border: the bottom doesn't print
 a straight line, and it's not easy to turn it
 over and use it upside down, which i often do
with other blocks.

an unusual block which i didn't end up
buying as i didn't think i would use it in my work.

below is an ombre dyed scarf printed with a four line block and repeats of a floral block; above it is a peacock block. this is actually a three-part block, each part being used to print a different colour, ending with the outline. i use these two independently; the third block, not shown here, is not a complete bird but only features fine details to be picked out in colour.

the peacock on the left is the filler block
 while the one on the right is the outline.
the outline is printed last.
below are examples of ajrak blocks. 

this block measures about 5.5 inches square

the silk scarf below is ombre-dyed in blue and red  and overprinted in white. if you look closely you will see the first of the two ajrak blocks shown above. this is not the way traditional ajraks are made, but is my own take on using the blocks, of which i have collected several.

 the black and white photograph below shows my block printer (karegar, or artisan) printing the design. real ajrak making involves resist block printing. the designs are printed with a resist that will not take the traditional indigo or alizarin shades, and will eventually wash out leaving the printed area white. 

click on the link for an article on ajrak and a slideshow, which shows how in this process the design is printed using a resist:

August 20, 2013

diaspora poets: shadab zeest hashmi

here is the link to three poems in sugar mule by shadab zeest hashmi, winner of the san diego book prize for poetry for the beautiful, lyrical collection baker of tarifa, a cycle of poems describing the zenith and the fall of muslim spain, and a return to the present, in which the poet begins to recreate this world.

and a reading from baker of tarifa

August 18, 2013

random thoughts: on pakistanis who write in the english language

browsing through the poetry section upstairs last week at london book company in kohsar market - a quiet place now that the cafe is no longer there - i stumbled on three treasures. i was there to see if i could, perhaps, find a copy of the now out of print volume of maki qureshi's poems, misplaced at one of the poetry readings that i organize off and on, and originally bought here. i didn't find the latter but i found the aforementioned. all of them cost me a pittance, since they are old publications and london book co doesn't see fit to sell them at prices equivalent to the current rates, unlike other bookshops. so i bought vikram seth's translations of three chinese poets: wang wei, li bai and du fu, published by faber india, for Rs. 100. azra abbas' autobiographic sketches translated by samina rahman for about the same. this is not a very good translation, and i assume it may have been one of the translator's first, as i recently heard her reading a very good translation of zehra nigah's work at the lahore lit fest. 
The third volume that i discovered and bought was mornings in the wilderness, an anthology of poems, short stories and essays in English as well as translations from the vernacular, edited by waqas khwaja during the late eighties. all of 75 rupees. while i might gloat over these prices, that's not why i bought them. it's because i wanted a record of literary activities during that time, a time of repression under general zia ul haq, when the arts - or rather independent artists and writers - were underground; and writing in english was disapproved of and had few avenues for publication other than newspapers. it was during this time that a group of writers under waqas khwaja created a writing group in Lahore, with the idea to write, critique and translate. mornings in the wilderness contains writing and translations by these writers, as well as by poets who were well known in the nineteen seventies, when the English writing scene, particularly poetry, was active and vibrant; names such as taufiq rafat, daud kamal, waqas khwaja, alamgir hashmi, and athar tahir. 

in reading the introduction to mornings… i realize that the ideas many people have about writing in english today were much the same then as they are now, except that since those years plenty of prose in english by pakistanis here and in the diaspora has been published and lauded, and poetry in english by pakistanis here and in the diaspora has been published quietly to little acclaim in literary journals. most of this has been done outside the country. prose succeeds more than poetry because it appeals more to the general public, and the themes appeal to a western audience. this is not to downplay their literary appeal, because much good writing is coming out of this country. i say this  because i'm not one to read a novel because it talks about displacement or identity or trauma. i want to read the book for the way it's written as much as for its themes. and there are some who certainly meet my personal criteria for good writing. 

to go back to why i began writing this post. i wanted to quote from mornings in the wilderness, because at every literary reading or program over the last few months the question of writing in english has been raised and debated. at punjab university, a Phd student of english literature who was admitted on the strength of the poem he wrote, asked if it was relevant - using the word in the sense of legitimacy - to write in english. 
you will find others critical of prose or novels published in english because they consider that these writers subscribe to the imperialist point of view by writing about their countrymen in their, that is the imperialists’, language. since the themes they treat are often those of which we are secretly ashamed, and since publishing houses want to make money and pick writing on themes that they know will sell the book (i.e. the element of sensationalism), we consider these writers to be playing into the imperialists' hands to portray us as semi savage, or certainly uneducated and cruel.

aside from all this debate, there is constant friction between proponents of urdu and those of english, to the extent that they behave like two opposing camps, resentful of one another and of what each represents, yet not quite willing to engage in full battle. part of this stems from class divisions, which unfortunately divide the country into the wealthy who are fluent in english, and the rest (a measure of this problem stems from the fact that english medium schools are attended by the wealthy; and over the last few years many of these have ceased to consider the national language necessary, advocating instead an 'easy urdu' course which completely ignores urdu literary traditions).
at a literary competition i found the urdu 'camp' critical of what they considered lack of protocol and form (and i refer to form here in a ritual context, the rules referred to being those of formal announcements, timing and discipline) which spilled over into general disapproval of the anglicized elite. the english 'camp,' who were much more informal, considered the urdu camp rigid and unforgiving, and ready to take slight over what they considered as a lack of recognition of their position. Each side came equipped with a set of predetermined attitudes; neither was right, and with a little camaraderie things would have been more harmonious. one member of the english camp was fluent in urdu poetry and had attended mushairas since she was a child, but before she could even mention, let alone talk about it, the barriers had been set in place.

i am sure that those who read this will understand that what i am talking about is a set of stereotypes. beneath the stereotypes, as with many other things in life, there is always a fuller story, which shows the stereotype as the false image that it is.

since this has been a prolonged preamble, i will return to the introduction from mornings in the wilderness by waqas khwaja. He writes:

'Writers who have adopted English as their medium of expression are damned in their very choice of language. They are accused of being anachronistic left overs of the British Colonial period and suffer further from a lack of readership. Not surprisingly, those who are most vociferous in criticizing their choice of language, have only tenuous links with their environment and find it easier to build their reputations on catchy, and misleading slogans than to approach the problem with the kind of seriousness it demands of them. Their sparse knowledge of the language further prevents them from appreciating the achievements of those Pakistani writers who have wrested a new idiom from it and localized it to an extent that it has become both relevant and responsive to our conditions. But the use of English as the medium of creative expression alienates the writers from this society in a most emphatic way and is a classic manifestation of the tension between intimacy and estrangement. Had the writer employed English as a foreign tongue, there would have been a separation or estrangement only, but its use, without queasiness or shame, as a language of one's own, revitalizes the bonds that tie one to the environment. It is therefore not difficult to understand why such writers make special efforts to acquaint themselves with the impulses that motivate the society within which they live, their historical, cultural and social imperatives, and translate or rework them in their writings. Language in this case serves to distance them from their subject matter and helps them to reflect on it before reviving it indirectly as something different, and new. Immediacy is achieved through reflective insight as against precipitate, sometimes conditioned, response.'

doesn't that say a wealth of things? there is criticism of people, politicians and others, who tried to quash developments in english writing. and there is the very correct observation that those who write in english examine their immediate society, that is Pakistan, in depth, using the language as a tool that allows them more objectivity than their own. 

without going into an extensive history lesson, i will reiterate the fact that a body of work written in English by Indians existed before partition. The tradition of using the language was carried on not because writers subscribed to the imperialist point of view, but simply because they enjoyed the language. sixty five years after independence we have a small but well established group of people writing in English. 

but to insinuate that these writers are divorced from their immediate milieu or unable to understand the country is ridiculous. and here i will name a few writers.
i begin with waqas khawaja, editor and contributor to mornings in the wilderness. khwaja studied at government college in Lahore and found in taufiq rafat a mentor when he began writing poetry; a mentor who encouraged the development of a local idiom rather than the one offered by the English canon then taught at colleges and university. khwaja, who is now based in the US and is a dean at emory, writes in English but is fluent in urdu and punjabi. most recently he was the translation editor for a comprehensive volume of modern Pakistani poetry translated from the vernacular a couple of years ago. his collection of poems no one waits for the train is a verse narrative that traces the roots of his subject, who loses his family at partition in the train massacre which left all the passengers dead before it reached its destination in pakistan. but it also searches for the roots of peace and harmony, going back to the teachings of indian mystics of all faiths, before partition. in the coda, 'following bulleh shah,' the narrator finds peace within himself through the latter's teachings.
harris khalique, a poet who writes in urdu and english, confesses that he writes in english because he feels it gives him more freedom than the former. his urdu poems are often vivid character sketches. his english poems are intimate reflections of his personal angst. 
in her most recent novel, burnt shadows, kamila shamsie uses english as a bridge to venture into areas of karachi that she hasn't hitherto explored in her writing - lower middle and working class and the slums - examining characters whose lives are directly affected by the aftermath of war, beginning with the bombing of hiroshima, continuing pre and post partition through to the afghan war and events following 9/11. The novel spans three continents and several nationalities and although it centres on Pakistan it is about how war affects humanity. 
nadeem aslam left Pakistan in his teens and lives in a predominantly Pakistani community in England. but the landscape of his childhood dominates his writing in his earliest as well as in his most recent work, The Blind Man's Garden. this novel is set in the present and describes the terrible pressures and fissures that events after radicalization and 9/11 have brought into the lives of ordinary people. leila in the wilderness, a novella published by granta, is a beautifully written story set in the heart of the punjab. aslam uses the legend of leila and majnu as a leitmotif, but the tale is about the tensions between modernization and firmly rooted tradition and social hierarchy in a village. it also brings up female infanticide (I find that aslam has enormous empathy towards his female characters).
i am currently reading zulfikar ghose's the murder of aziz khan, written in 1962 by an author who spent his early childhood in sialkot and thereafter migrated twice before settling in austin, texas. this long out of print novel has now been reprinted by OUP. acclaimed for its literary quality as for its theme, the book is set in the cotton growing area of the Punjab and is about a peasant whose land – and life – are taken over by industrialists. if you read the opening pages of the book which describe aziz khan, his farm and his relationship to the land, you cannot say that the writer has no consciousness of the Pakistani landscape or understanding of its people.
some critics contend that it's not possible to write about a milieu other than that to which you belong. however, i can't help but recall memoirs of a geisha, an intricately researched novel which i thoroughly enjoyed reading. so perhaps it is possible to immerse yourself in something to the extent that you become it. 

these are only a few examples; there are novels which i have read or know of but haven't read, by novelists such as mohammed hanif and musharraf ali farooqi, both of whom also write in the vernacular. i shouldn't have to justify that they are fluent in the latter. but perhaps it will convince critics that it's not only the anglicized elite who write in english. and that although those who write or wrote in english aren't directly politicized in the way that writers in the vernacular have been, that's not a defect. 

and this brings me to my last contention. a question that constantly arises at readings of poetry by pakistanis writing in english is that the poets aren't directly concerned with socio political issues in the way that urdu poets and poetry, through the progressive writers' movement as well as in direct response to injustice and repression, have been over the last forty years.
 but anyone who has read extensively from english poetry by pakistanis will know that rafat wrote about people from his home town, sialkot; maki qureshi wrote about violence in her home town, karachi. and hima raza wrote about post-colonial angst. 
moniza alvi's poem about partition, based on the experiences of her grandmother and uncles, is a moving, powerful work that links together complex themes: not just the physical agony of partition but the mental and emotional trauma caused by conflict, and the idea of the split self, which have been recurrent motifs in her last collections, how the stone found its voice, and europa and the bull. alvi, incidentally, has lived most of her life in england.
the point being made here is that if you write in english doesn't mean that your imagery doesn't reflect your surroundings or your experience. 
on a final note, with reference to the supposition that poetry must reflect socio political reality, i don't think that the latter necessarily makes good poetry. good poetry is about the image, the image which suggests much more than a mere picture.

here's link to nadeem aslam reading a passage from leila in the wilderness:
nadeem aslam

and a link to his interview in guernica 
guernica magazine

a more political podcast, with mohammed hanif: 
mohammed hanif, the asia society

musharraf ali farooqi on translating amir hamza: 
musharraf ali farooqi

text of europa and the bull, moniza alvi:
europa and the bull

recent poems by waqas khwaja:
waqas khwaja

poem by harris khalique featured in vallum:
black pepper poem

August 16, 2013

on a passion for jigsaws

As a little girl, I was fascinated by jigsaw puzzles. This must have been very early on because I vaguely remember wooden block puzzles made up of four squares which one matched to create six pictures. I don't remember larger puzzles but I must have made some because when we moved from Cardiff to Lahore, I was eight years old and I knew that I wanted puzzles at Eid or Christmas. When we visited the toy shop - the best one on Lower Mall which had local toys in dark cabinets on the left side of the shop, and imported ones on the right - the prices of the latter were so prohibitive that we almost never bought them. I remember sometimes avoiding looking at the cabinet for fear that I might see something that I would want and not be able to have. 

I did try to make a locally made puzzle once or twice, but the card it was made of was thin and the paper buckled easily. The pictures were glossy but the colours, depth and detail of the images were unappealing, and there was never the challenge that comes with many pieces. Suffice it to say that they were also made for children younger than me. And I now realize that I must have been able to discern the difference between a good reproduction and a bad one.

Then, on a trip to London in my teens I bought a jigsaw of Milan Cathedral, my first puzzle with 500 pieces, of which I lost one or two in the making. The jigsaw itself stayed with me despite the missing pieces, because the idea of actually having a complicated jigsaw at last was something to treasure.

From all this you might deduce that I didn't have many toys. But I had a walky-talky doll bought on a trip to England, a wonderful, fully electrified dolls' house made by out local carpenter; and although I wasn't permitted Barbies, I had a set of dolls that fit inside the dolls' house; and many, many books. In those days one didn't travel as much as people do now. When we did go abroad the focus was on museums, concerts, theatre and books. As for books, my pocket money and Eidi were immediately spent on the latter. In the seventies Lahore had great bookshops for new and used books.

But my fascination for the jigsaw remained. When I taught at kindergarten level I was also studying by correspondence for a teacher training course from the Neo Montessori School in London. Teaching aids were a key item, and faced with a dearth of them, I made my own. One of which was an alphabet jigsaw puzzle. The children loved it, kneeling on the floor to assemble the pieces, which made a puzzle the size of a sheet of boxboard. Sheets of boxboard glued together to make up the thickness were the material it was made of.

When my children were growing up I introduced them to puzzle pleasures. My daughter took to making them with great fervor. She began with the aforementioned Milan Cathedral, then went through several in quick succession: Monet's water lilies, a collage of playing cards, and a landscape of paddy fields that she reminded me of the other day because I told her that I was making an impossible butterfly puzzle. It is a 1000 piece puzzle with over forty eight butterflies, of which about a dozen are various shades and patterns in yellow, all of which are nearly impossible to tell apart. You have to sit in very good light and ruminate over them for ages before you notice the very subtle differences. 

Don't you remember the paddy fields? my daughter asked me, when I told her this.

I didn't.

But it was framed and hung over my bed, she said. It was impossible to make because all the shades looked so similar. 

The butterflies came from my used items haunt, Itwaar (Sunday) Bazaar. Rather, the Itwaar Bazaar of Isloo, in sector G-9. I now have several of these. I bought whatever was available, not caring if the pieces were all intact or not, because they were so ridiculously priced at Rs. 50 per box. That is equivalent to 50 cents. Very few people buy them. When I began buying puzzles here I noticed that customers like me would rummage through the entire pile to find what they liked. Because not all of them are interesting, and children’s and adult’s puzzles are usually mixed up in a stack shoved in to the side of the shop. The shopkeeper would be visibly upset by our ranging the boxes on his cramped counter as it would obstruct his other more lucrative customers. Who would be asking for more interesting toys: dolls, transformer figures, trucks and such.

Since they aren't a hot selling item, you sometimes see them suddenly flung into a pile in front of a shop when the owner sees customers approaching. 

50 rupee toys! the shopkeeper will shout. Only 50 rupees! Here! Take them! 

People who aren't familiar with puzzles will crowd around and look at the boxes dubiously. 

What kind of game? they will say. 

A game, says the shopkeeper. 

But we can't buy it unless we open it to see. 

The boxes are taped shut and the shopkeeper obviously doesn't want to misplace any precious pieces. 

Go home and open it, he says. It’s only 50 rupees. Do you think you can buy a toy this cheap anywhere else? 

The fact that the box rattles when shaken isn't any help to those who don't know what's inside and have never seen a puzzle. They're looking for dolls and trucks and dinky cars and more substantial items anyway. This matches a fact I learned this evening when looking up the history of jigsaws on the information superhighway; jigsaw puzzles (a jigsaw actually refers to the type of saw used to cut the puzzle into irregular shaped pieces) were originally meant for the children of the rich, and were used as an educational toy. It was only late in the nineteenth century that jigsaws became entertainment for adults. 

Sometimes my family laugh at me. They say I make jigsaws because I am fulfilling a leftover sense of deprivation from my childhood. So when I was in Nathia Gali two years ago staying at one of Ursula's apartments, I was overjoyed when I went to see her one morning and found her daughter so absorbed in the making of a huge jigsaw which she'd spread out on the dining table, that she said hello only briefly before going back to it. 

But all this is only a digression. What attracts me to puzzles after all? 

For one, making a whole from diverse parts. Matching colour to colour and shape to shape to make a picture. Which I do by beginning with the frame. It has always seemed easier that way. The butterflies are the first deviation, because there are barely any clues offered in the multiple shades of pale blue that make up the border. I could spend hours trying to match the shapes instead, but it hasn’t worked so far, whereas I have actually managed to put together nineteen butterflies. 

And this brings to mind a novel which intrigued me several years ago. Since it was long ago, I remember only the main elements. Georges Perec’s Life, A Users’ Manual is composed of multiple stories, all of which take place in one apartment block –the microcosm as it were. The stories are inter-linked, although sometimes they don’t immediately seem to be. The 99 short chapters introduce us to the inhabitants of each apartment, describing them and their activities, sometimes giving us clues as to why they are who they are. But central to the book is the jigsaw, in theme and in architecture. Or rather, a series of jigsaws, commissioned by the owner of the apartment block, Bartlebooth, who has spent 10 years learning to paint, 20 years travelling the world and painting watercolours of each place visited. Now, in the final ten years of his life, he is assembling the paintings, made into jigsaws by Gaspard Winckler, a resident of the apartment block. Bartlebooth, however, doesn’t manage to complete his grand plan, dying while making the 439th puzzle. I found the novel impossible to put down: it resembles a jigsaw within a jigsaw, and is full of 'allusions and intellectual traps.' 

The jigsaw, for me, is like life. Pieces connect, not always easily or instantly, but coming to rest in their places over time, after sudden dead ends or traps, like false clues, leading one astray.

But I also see ways in which my work in craft, art and writing simulate its premises. 

Craft and design are my bread and butter, poetry and art my passions; I will begin with the former, it being the central motif that feeds my passions, even if the energy required to run them saps the fuel needed to fulfill the latter. 

When I am making a decoupage project, which is the craft of cutting designs from paper and assembling them on wood, I look at elements in a design. Since I use photographs or photocopies, frequently Islamic floral or geometric patterns, I often pick one element and repeat it to make a frieze. Or I pick out a shape, a triangle or a half circle or half of an arch within a design – which might be a floral pattern – this is then flipped and mirrored to create a match that fits next to it. The set is then repeated to create a frieze. I might also take an element of a design and repeat it by mirroring it four times over and matching elements to create a square or circle within a stylized frame. Similarly, I use tile designs of different sizes in the same design to create a background over which I print another set of designs, often the same but in a different colour. 

All of this would be impossible without the computer and the printer, which reproduce the images over and over again in colour and in black and white.

to the left is the original design element.
the right side shows it repeated to make a
complete rectangle. this particular design 

belongs to an archway: the red area is the 
archway frame
here i have used fragments of the picture
 on the left to make the border shown 
at right. this design was at the base of a
 honeycomb, which  begins at the top of this arch

In designing with wooden printing blocks, I match up a set of blocks and look at the ways in which they can be combined. For instance, the zigzag motif in the border shown here matched the zigzag bark of the palm tree. This happened quite by chance as I was sorting through my big basket of blocks. What I’d planned originally was something different. Laying out the blocks and comparing the various elements helped me to find the ones that I felt went best together.

the two blocks shown at right will be 
used to make the basis for a 
repeated design.

The same occurs in writing. I constantly cut and paste, all the more since I now use the computer more than the pen – although I may begin with hand written lines. Lines assembled on the page await dissection; subtle rearrangements and shifts in line length await final judgement. I make comparisons by cutting and pasting poems several times using different arrangements, then deciding which layout, so to speak, is the best. This layout, of course, must not detract from the original music, if I can be so bold as to call it that. It is an aid to seeing it assembled on the page, and hearing the music in my mind as I read the composed lines. 

I might be going overboard if I said that it resembles the way I perceive human nature. But jigsaws are my way of looking at diverse elements, finding the key, the piece that interlocks several others, that gives me a glimpse of what the complete whole might be.

August 14, 2013

studio space

since the studio is my personal workplace - unless i'm at other workshops for the various stages of lamp making - i thought i should post some pictures of it. i couldn't, of course, leave out the cats. so the first pictures are of them:

cat mascots. from left to right
zubeida and chewbacca. zubeida likes
to be petted for a few minutes,
after which she will push you
away with her paw or give a tiny
growl. chewbacca is a young, fiesty
male but is otherwise very gentle.

looking into the studio from the
lounge. the basket hanging on the wall
is from hunza. it's used by women to
carry fruit, corn or wood...just
about anything. i use it for various
baskets of blocks. these ones are mostly antiques,
carved out of shisham (rosewood) or keekar
(acacia) and used for printing designs for
block printed cloth, such as ajrak on cotton or
on silk; the latter would often be filigree
designs. for more block printing, look up posts
labelled block printings.
looking from the lounge to the window. i like to
look out onto something green so the window is
full of plants.
my printmaking table, with my tiny
press. it pulls a maximum size of
11 x 14" but has served me well.
the table's height helps prevent
backaches! at the moment it's covered
and surrounded with lightboxes and
lamp bases.