YOUR TONGUE IN MY MOUTH
Huma Mulji's new solo exhibition opens at MIRROR this July. Join us for the opening event on Thursday 21 July from 5-7pm.
In 1962, Ayub Khan’s military government dismantled ‘Malika Victoria’, dispersing the many components of the memorial to the Imperial Queen, which eventually found their way across the city. The marble and bronze monument was originally commissioned to the sculptor Sir Hamo Thornycroft, and inaugurated in 1906, by George the V at Frere Hall, Karachi.
Immediately after independence in August 1947, the government of Pakistan began the long process that would, over the next few decades, modify street names, discard memorials, reshape cultural markers, revise school textbooks, weekends, architecture, law and language. To heal the deep wounds of partition, and in a hurry to distance itself from anything unIslamic, centuries of syncretic cultural and religious rituals were slowly stripped away, eroded and transformed in collective memory.
Growing up in Karachi, Mulji navigated her way between the disembodied heads and limbs of discarded statues, in the back corridors of Mohatta Palace, then the abandoned home of Fatima Jinnah. In an article in The Herald magazine from 1994, she came across a vivid description of a pedestal outside the Karachi Municipal Corporation Headquarters. Like any city bench, it was found variously occupied by loungers, eating or waiting; cats devouring leftover food and crows and kites swooping down, after the last morsels. No one knew or cared that this was the plinth where once stood an imposing marble statue of the former Empress of India.
This year, the artist journeyed back to Karachi to find this plinth. In the process, stumbling upon other fragments of the memorial. The body of resulting work presented here centres on collective memory, time, place and belonging; complicating accepted historical linearity, placing two worlds in parallel entanglement, taking the viewer to glimpse geographies other than their own and to re-read illegible stories.
Huma Mulji is based in Bristol with a studio at Spike Island. Alongside her practice she teaches BA (Hons) Fine Art, at UWE Bristol, and previously at Arts University Plymouth. She is represented by Project88, Mumbai.
Her work centres on observing the everyday within urban geographies, particularly across South Asia. She is interested in telling the story of a nebulous combination of the dysfunctional, the heroic, the sorrowful and the resilient. Mulji works across media, with a focus on sculpture, installation and photography.
Huma Mulji is one of two artists selected for The South West Showcase 2022. SWS is a recurring open call platform (est. 2013), showcasing artists from across the South West region. The showcase aims to support artists working and living in the South West through a year-long programme of mentoring and support with an exhibition outcome; presenting a long-term commitment to profiling and supporting the practises of artists in this region.
The film work Gandhi Garden depicts a pair of bronze lions that once flanked the Queen’s statue and now sit in Karachi Zoo whereby a restless present plays out around them.
Red Carpet is a re-staging of the inauguration of the Victoria Memorial at Frere Hall. The image taken from the Archive of Sculptors’ Papers at the Henry Moore Institute, Leeds, serves as a backdrop to the exhibition, abraded to leave the ceremonial red carpet as the lasting legacy.
The Karachi Star (titled after a Victorian mosaic pattern called The Star of Karachi) reveals the void left by the footprint of the lost plinth of the Queen Victoria Statue, and Rumour tells the tale of the Queen’s nose, lost during the rushed relocation.
The marble statue continues to live in the back of the Mohatta Palace Museum, covered in dust, partly concealed as though swallowed by the city’s abundant Bougainvillaea spectabilis (locally known as bogan-bail) and Cestrum Nocturnum (Raat ki Rani), with a prohibition on photography. In the exhibition, the photographic work Raat ki Rani (Queen of the Night) is propped casually, emitting a dull scent of this fragrant night blooming plant, bringing distant geographies home.
The film Your Tongue in My Mouth is a portrait of Bilal Sahab, a roadside notary, who types gift deeds, personal wills and letters to the editors of English newspapers on behalf of Karachi’s citizens. Sharing the title of the exhibition, the film alludes to the complex relationship between language and interpretation, that which is lost and that which is evoked. The title of the exhibition is itself both erotic and intrusive, with desire and repulsion simultaneously at play. It suggests violence and discomfort alluding to Pakistan’s complicated relationship with its past; and how that history plays out in the present.
Mulji brings together this fragmented architecture, obscured by a collective forgetting and a narrative where the city is the only protagonist.
Foreground Projects commission new artworks for new audiences.
In the Eye of the Storm is the fourth essay released in Foreground’s File Notes series, an occasional series of commissioned writing that will critically engage with different areas of Foreground’s programme.
The new essay explores Your Tongue in My Mouth, an exhibition by Huma Mulji at MIRROR, that explores collective memory, time, place and belonging. Immediately after independence in August 1947, the government of Pakistan began the long process that would, over the next few decades, modify street names, discard memorials, reshape cultural markers, revise school textbooks, weekends, architecture, law and language.
Written by artist and theatre practitioner Asma Mundrawala, In the Eye of the Storm begins with a quote by Pakistani novelist Asad Muhammad Khan, in which he speaks of the time he and his contemporaries spent in ‘60s Karachi as being ‘in the centre of the storm, that distinctly silent circle, where we did not live, but rather, frequented.’ Mundrawala goes on to skillfully carry the reader through ideas at the core of Mulji’s Your Tongue in My Mouth while reflecting on how Karachi’s colonial past transformed its inhabitants’ relationship to language, collective storytelling and the physical space of the urban landscape.
Related to YOUR TONGUE IN MY MOUTH
In Conversation with Huma Mulji - Your Tongue in my Mouth
Student artist assistant Christina Kutter put some questions to South West Showcase artist Huma Mulji about her solo exhibition 'Your Tongue in my Mouth'