Capturing reality on canvas

Taking cues from his surroundings, Dr Syed Ali Wasif sensitively creates the most realistic work

Published: Tue 23 Mar 2021, 12:00 AM

Last updated: Mon 9 Aug 2021, 11:19 AM

Dr Syed Ali Wasif is an eminent senior psychiatrist who holds the unique distinction of being both an extremely skilled and experienced medical practitioner — a psychiatrist no less — and an accomplished artist.

Dr Syed Ali Wasif

He was a close friend and disciple of late Sadequain and twice recipient of Sadequain awards. His work has featured in no less than 16 exhibitions over the years in Pakistan and abroad. His figures capture the pathos of daily human suffering and strife, in their eyes, their postures, their provocative gaits and how they make us think about them and ourselves. His paintings are also themed along essential and conflicting societal fault lines such as violence against women, tyranny, religious zeal, culture and the loneliness of living in a confused, and confusing, world. His art takes inspiration most of all from his work as a psychiatrist who is close to his patients. He is also a sublime and integrated individual.

There are many powerful and touching paintings each handled with appropriate sensitivity of a person who shares with his patients the distortions of sunken spirit. Each of hi, work is moving in its effect in presenting his unique experience with the persons who have to be handled with great care. Evoking the dilemmas of low-spirited person in art is a challenge in itself and no other artist in Pakistan has such an authentic expression of his personal experiences and traumas so well executed in plastic form.

His profound vision is unique for evolving the most striking sketches, which portray the tortured soul with such empathy. When one looks at the eyes in his paintings, they make everything around them hazy and start pulling the audience into the subject’s core, revealing the inner feelings and have mesmerising effect which is hard to ignore.

On the other hand, the most significant and captivating pieces of Dr Wasif’s art are from the series made by his inspiration from the culture of Sindh Thar and the Dancing Girl from Indus Valley Civilization which he visited in 2006.

The trip to Thar was perhaps a trip of a lifetime, a ‘game’-changer for Wasif. New colours took prominence in his works, which only highlighted the darker themes he paints. The faces are painted with the many expressions and contortions that he sees in not only his practice, but among the people of Thar. The accused women are painted as if looking to flaunt their crimes through their punishment, known as kari — the shaving of their heads — and without ears, to show how incredibly oblivious and dheet they are to others’ whispers and idle gossip.

“Eyes, earth, moon, flowers, intimacy and ruggedness dominate the subconscious of artist and psychiatrist Wasif…” The full moon; is a feminine symbol which is a universal representation of the rhythm of time as it embodies its cycle. The phases of the moon symbolise immortality and eternity, enlightenment or the dark side of nature. A desert with an arid environment and mountains symbolises obstacles. Whereas climbing over one or passing through a range indicates overcoming obstacles or making progress. Climbing mountain or other height often indicates spiritual mental ‘rising’ or improvement. While rivers, ponds and oceans represent aspects of spiritual life and humanity. Lotus flowers are symbolic of struggle and resilience; anybody who has ever observed a lotus flower emerging from a murky pond cannot fail to see the beauty of this exquisite plant.

His work communicates stories epics mythology through dance, songs and music. The symbolic postures and movements have something to say and narrate in a unique encrypted manner. The significance of symbolism and the vibrant colours entailing life are evident in his works.

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