The size of her charcoal drawings is large in scale, stretching to five feet, and each work pulsates with the rhythm of the cosmos. The gnarled roots of an ancient tree spread out across the earth, there is a rush of wings and feathers of birds through the air and the wind sweeps across plants on water, so that roots and stalks and flowers are all uprooted, tangled and swaying. The mighty force of these movements is felt as though we could touch the ruffled feathers of birds and explore the roots in a tactile way. Yet these are not photographs at all but powerful abstract explorations on paper, drawn free scale in black and white!
To use charcoal on paper is pure exercise, reminding Saba Hasan of her working on huge ‘life’ drawings of the body nude 15 years ago in Switzerland. Here, she is focused not on the human body but on the elements of nature. Yet in a way, these are intimately related, body to the universe, as she is exploring the skeins and blood veins of earth and wind and air.
Using 12 or more different shades of charcoal black and grey to create textures, with large sweeping strokes of her arms, Hasan then blurs the charcoal to smudge the outlines and bring ‘body’ to the work. The works are so free that they can be ‘seen’ to mean many things and evoke many emotions for different viewers. By relating the microcosm of the body to the macrocosm, even if not consciously articulated, Hasan is searching out new meanings.
This ambiguity of ‘meaning’ is to be found in other mediums of expression used by Hasan. Exhibited recently at the Alliance Française in Delhi were not only her large charcoal drawings described previously but also her photographs of water, as well as waxworks and collographs, which were created in a stint in New York. Each medium exhibits Hasan’s need to explore and experiment, seeking freedom and spontaneity.
The collographs were experiments done in New York in an old printing press used by several graphic artists. It involves a technique of printing that is water based, using gel on the plate. Unlike working with the etching plate and woodcuts, which involves incision and cutting into the plate or wood, the lines created using the new technique can permit more spontaneity.
In context, it is significant that several contemporary women artists avoid the conventional mediums of bronze, wood, metal and canvas, preferring to work in hemp and fibre and fabric, wire, and cast paper. Also exhibited and in the catalogue are Hasan’s explorations in other mediums, such as resurrecting the textures of books. In all the different mediums explored by her, the photographs prove to be her strength and are indeed an endless source of inspiration.
Photographing water drew her outdoors to be enchanted by the elements of light and shades changing forever on the surface, creating ripples on water that are playful. Branches, stones and rippling waves of water are taken from life in her walks through gardens in Japan and different cities in the world and in the Deer Park in Delhi, which is close to her home. As she remarks, “that sureness (and confirmation) to evoke the rhythms inherent in life came from my doing photography.” These photographs may have influenced her drawings, which are more recent and done in 2017.