Huma Mulji’s work has moved more and more towards looking at the absurdities of a post-colonial society in transition, taking on board the visual and cultural overlaps of language, image and taste, that create the most fantastic collisions. She describes the time we live in as moving at a remarkable speed and in regard to Pakistan Mulji refers to the experience of ‘living 200 years in the past and 30 years in the future all at once’. She is interested in looking at this phenomenon with humor, to recognize the irony of it, formally and conceptually. Rather than dwell on and follow existing theoretical issues of living and working in a post-colonial nation, and applying those stagnant studies to a lived existence she examines the pace of cultural change through her art work.
Mulji’s sculptural works respond to the possibilities of making things in Pakistan, and embrace low-tech methods of “making”, together with materials and forms that come from another time, and that are “imported”, “newly discovered” or “re-appropriated”. For example the work Arabian Delight is a low-tech taxidermy camel, stuffed in a suitcase. It plays with ideas of travel, transition, and of mental and physical movement, combined with an old world symbol of the camel, forced into the suitcase, looking formally uncomfortable, but nonetheless happy. This particular work also examines the relationship between Pakistan and the Gulf States and the manipulation of the Governments of Pakistan, the “Arabisation” of the country, for years, towards all but wiping out a “south Asian” identity, to replace it with a “Muslim” identity. For Mulji, this in itself, is forced, unnatural, and disagreeable. However, she also approaches this problem from the angle of someone living within it: therefore looking at it with humor, and recognizing the absurd results of the situation, in daily life, and through interactions with each other, and the world.
The photographic series Sirf Tum (only you) from 2004 and from 2008, similarly address such absurd collisions. Sirf Tum deals with issues related to intimacy in public spaces. Surveying the frame through the lens, the camera zooms in, becoming the voyeur, awkwardly, confidently, watching and disapproving at once. The protagonists are second hand dolls bought from piles of toys sold around Lunda Bazaar in Lahore, incidentally brought into Pakistan with salvation army clothing from another world, leftover from some child’s summer holiday. Already on the Periphery of society, the naked couple is placed in locales that challenge and are challenged by their scale, creating a hyper-real space, a hyper-real narrative, a “plastic” story, convincing and disturbing at the same time. In the 2008 series, the two seemingly interactive narratives engage with each other visually, but don’t really converse. Which of the narratives is real? This also brings into question contemporary media images, and the phenomenon of “photoshop”, where the fine line between truth and untruth becomes a matter of belief.
The newer work, with the taxidermic buffaloes, and the photographs of buffaloes in the landscape, continue to be informed by the absurd and incongruous visual confrontations in a country desiring to be at once the most forward-looking, and unable and unwilling to negotiate its traditional values with this idea of progress.
Heavenly Heights and Her Suburban Dream both attempt to juxtapose these colliding metaphors, to envision this surreal reality. The work avoids easy taking of sides, or didactics, in imagining a future urban landscape of Pakistan. Sculpturally too, the work underscores the conflict. The suspension of volume and weight, and the pushing of anatomical possibilities to emphasize the tension.