Huma Mulji uses humor and jarring juxtapositions to highlight the tensions of contemporary life in urban Pakistan where issues of identity and belonging are deeply shaped by a history of colonization and recent political events. A multi-media artist working in a country she describes as “living 200 years in the past and 30 years in the future all at once,” she is best known for her sculptural work, but she is also a photographer and painter.
Mulji’s series Sirf Tum (Only You), created when she first moved to Lahore in 2004, was inspired by graffitti she saw on city walls that marked the contested boundaries of public space; expressions of love such as sirf tum were excised or replaced with religious or political slogans by unknown persons. The series took the form of dynamic scenarios set in communal urban areas. Still Life shows a close-up view of two naked Barbie and Ken dolls seated on a rope hammock bed in the foreground. Shot from bed-high level, four standing men, dressed in traditionalkurta shalwar, loom above the figures, looking down with seeming confusion. The stance of the men in the background at the right, hands on hips, also seems to signal disapproval. These dolls speak both to the artist’s personal circumstances (her father manufactured toys) and the way that the detritus of global popular culture can be used to disrupt prevailing cultural narratives. While the phrase “only you,” speaks of romance and deep connection, that concept is in conflict with the reality of the scene, where the dolls are out of scale and context.
Image: Huma Mulji. Born in Karachi, Pakistan, Born 1970. Lives and works in Lahore. Still Life from Sirf Tum (Only You), 2004. Inkjet print on Hahnemuhle Photorag paper. Smith College Museum of Art. Gift of Friedman Benda LLC. ©2016 Huma Mulji