THE MASCULINE MASQUERADE
One of the most important and wide-ranging paradigm shifts to arise out of the social, political, and aesthetic upheavals of the 20th century is a sustained, visible challenge to the outdated notion of a hard and fast gender binary. As usual, artists have been at the forefront of these changes, creating works that question the normative assumptions of what our bodies should look like or do while drawing from a variety of perspectives on the subject. These divergent representations are far from a modern development, however in some cultures masculinity has been depicted in very black-and-white terms, particularly in East Asia. Such is the practice of Artist, Mohsin Shafi travelling from Pakistan who inquiries into the complexities of masculinity and gender transcends both time and place, making this a vital if sadly under-theorized facet of Pakistani art. Shafi reveals vulnerability, crisis, and anxiety as foundational to the embattled masculinity complex that has driven politics in Pakistan since the colonial era. In the process he deftly navigates the ethical quagmire of representing his country’s embroiled gender politics for a universal audience.
The author of numerous collages that recast the Pakistani dream of plenty in pansexual terms, Shafi, like so many artists of his generation, indulges in the era’s carnal abundance, and his appetites and experiences are reflected in the work, which alternates between the revealing and the puerile. An intimate, biographical conversation, ‘The Masculine Masquerade’ attempts to acknowledge masculinity and its social diversity within expansion of traditional parameters to include such important factors as race, class, ethnicity, sexuality and censorship through photo-collages capturing the artist’s polymorphous perversity in the matters of flesh and art.
Mohsin Shafi is an interdisciplinary artist mostly living and working in Lahore, Pakistan. His work investigates the blurred edges between identity and the intentions of identity, attempting to capture what he sees and record their frail existence, only to return and relive. Picking from actual personal narratives, as well as records and references, Shafi adds on to the visuals in a way that actually exposes a deep-set discomfort. His works are intricate, layered and complex. They make use of public access images from newspapers and magazines, photographs culled from the Internet, sewn together to form elaborate compositions that speak directly of the political milieu of his time.
Mohsin’s artistic practice strives to articulate the schematics of representation and the power dynamics associated with authoring such representations. His visual seeks to further the dialogue within the religious and socio-political context. These are the politics of representation pertaining to one’s nationalistic, ethnic, religious or gender identity and their intersectional relationships with media-representation, censorship, and religious freedoms. With his art practice he intends to articulate the notions of safety within physical and intellectual spaces of representation: the safety of being visible for having non-conforming ideas within a militant-state and of being proclaimed the -Other- by the spectators eye. This is the danger of being seen through the lens of sexual taboos, gender binaries, ethnic hierarchies, religious freedoms and the public availability of that information. These are the struggles of being looked at and judged, of being reduced to a cliché or a racial slur.
Shafi has showcased his work at some prominent galleries in Pakistan, as well as been part of some international shows in last few years. Among prominent practice/achievements Mohsin is an active member of the ‘Awami Art Collective’ which is A group of artists & activists intervening the public space for the cause of peaceful co-existence & celebration of diversity. Shafi was part of the Vasl Artists residency in 2010 in Karachi – Pakistan and was an artist in residence at the Rondo Studios, Graz; Austria in 2012. Besides being part of some major collector’s collection in Pakistan, His work is in permanent collection of The Museum of Sacred Art – MOSA, Belgium and been acquired by the Department of Book Art at the Mills College, San Francisco for their permanent collection. His work has been written about in local and international papers and publications. His images have also been used as covers for the books by Agnar artúvertin, Martin Walser, Gabriel Rosenstock and other writers/poets.