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Adeel Uz Zafar | Triad -  - Exhibitions - Aicon Contemporary

Teddy 15, 2023/2024. Engraved drawing on vinyl, 36h x 30w in.

Aicon Contemporary is pleased to present Adeel Uz Zafar: Triad. Curated by Amethyst Rey Beaver and Sarah Burney, this exhibition marks the American debut of Zafar’s miniature engravings on vinyl, alongside a brand new sound installation and the latest body of his iconic monumental works. 

Zafar has many subjects: plush children’s toys, the moon, clouds, starlit skies, dramatic landscapes, and geometric shapes. At first glance, these might seem disparate subjects but Zafar investigates them together to pull at a singular thread. Consider the child playing with their toy, dreaming up voices, personalities and scenarios, or the adult looking up into the sky contemplating their space in the world. Both are tabula rasas for the imagination, conduits for a suspension of reality, a brief slip into playful abstraction of thought.

Zafar’s toys are the playthings of a curious mind indeed. His Mickey, Mushu, and Teddy are bandaged to the point of mummification. Larger than life, drained of color, and floating eerily in an inky black space, they are a jarring sight: simultaneously funny, horrifying, and heartbreaking in their totemic scale and posture. Supersizing the plush toys is the artist’s way of commemorating the timelessness of his subjects, memorializing how ageless these toys have become as they befriend generation after generation. 

When contemplating the heavens however, Zafar makes the monumental miniature. Viewers are encouraged to step closer and use a magnifying glass to fully experience his moons, star speckled sky, clouds, cresting wave, and vistas of mountains and desert. They are grand pictures made pocket sized: the cosmos in the palm of your hand. By inverting the scale of his subjects and juxtaposing the contradictions Zafar has created an artistic funhouse that disorients and surprises, nudging viewers into that space of childhood wonder and imagination. 

Repeatedly drawing the same object has allowed Zafar to meditate on the infinite possibilities within his subjects, to dwell on the limitless patterns within the weave of his gauze just as he would in passing clouds — finding order and shapes in randomness. In shrinking his celestial vistas Zafar underscores his belief that the infinite need not be monumental. The miniature grid of gauze however seems to be his preferred medium to explore the infinite. His toys are obsessively wrapped in gauze, his geometric collages have the pattern of the cloth's loose, open weave inscribed on their surfaces, and the triptych Script is a close-up of the fiber, devoted entirely to its undulating pattern. Titling the gauze triptych Script simultaneously acknowledges the limitless possibilities within language and begs the question: is Zafar positioning bandage as text or text as a bandage? Does it heal or obfuscate? We are unlikely to find clear answers from Zafar. The artist is reticent about being prescriptive and purposefully leaves room for ambiguity and personal reflection. 

Zafar arrives at this space of abstract contemplation and reflection through a devotion to a process of his own making: engraving on a coated vinyl surface. It is a reductive process that reveals a fine white line with each scratch. Building a web of gauze or dimpled moon in this process is a feat of labor and patience. It is a cathartic and meditative act for Zafar, a ritualistic performance that pays homage to the Islamic art of calligraphic mashq, and brings him in the company of craft artisans. Zafar revels in the slowness of his process, savoring even the sound of his technique, which he has preserved for us in his sound piece Glitch.

Zafar tests the limits of his patience through repetition; questioning how closely he can recreate an engraving and how often he can draw an object before he loses interest. Recently he has been working in threes; born on the third day of the third month of the year, a child of three, and father to three children, Zafar feels a personal pull to the number. While many viewers might see a trinity in his compositions, Zafar pushes back from religious associations. He is drawn to the narrative possibilities of three: the beginning, the middle, the end, the framework and balance of a trilogy, the harmony of a triad.

Adeel Uz Zafar | Triad -  - Exhibitions - Aicon Contemporary

Adeel Uz Zafar (b. 1977; Karachi, Pakistan) completed his BFA degree at the prestigious National College of Arts, Lahore in 1998. Zafar took up the role of an illustrator and worked with several established publications before dedicating himself to painting almost two decades later. His time in the remote district of Gilgit, proved to be of vital importance to his practice where his style evolved in a rather unusual way.

The restrictions of mediums and techniques at this time gave birth to his engraving technique. Due to the dearth of paints and prepared surfaces in Gilgit, the artist started using photographic sheets and a cutter to create his imagery.

Zafar employs his childhood experiences and insight as a children’s book illustrator into his practice. In his work, childlike imagery is given a certain seriousness or gravity by being wrapped in bandages. With the use of bandages, Zafar tries to raise questions about identity and the delusion of individuality. He wraps his subjects so that the individual features or elements that make them different from one another are concealed, cloaking their identity. These monstrous objects are then placed in front of a pitch-black backdrop to create sublime visuals. The artist’s meticulous detail and laborious technique might resemble the painstaking technique of miniature painting yet he is set apart from miniature painters due to the sheer size of his art pieces.

Zafar has exhibited his work extensively within the country as well as internationally. The artist has been a part of several fairs such as Art Stage Singapore (2016), India Art Fair (2016), Art Basel, Hong Kong (2015) and Pulse Art Fair, New York (2012). He has also undertaken residencies in Lahore, Sydney and Cleveland. His work was part Converging Lines, a two-person show in 2012 and a solo exhibition, Being/Becoming curated by Aasim Akhtar at Khaas Art Gallery, Islamabad in 2015.

The artist lives and works in Karachi, Pakistan.