Muzaffar Ali brings loads of emotional energy while transcending the time and space in his visual storytelling. Home is central to all his journeys in art. His sense of belonging, his spirituality, his journeys are both rooted in the Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb of central Uttar Pradesh and are apolitically modern and progressive at the same time.
Muzaffar Ali easily floats through the varied formats of cinema, music, art, craft, and textile/ couture for his multifarious creative expression. Thereby he has many canvasses to offer. Apart from his legendary movies Umrao Jaan and Gaman, among others, which established him as an out-of-the-box filmmaker, his paintings and textile work also very subtly carry the same strand of reclaiming the lost world through experimentations and creativity.
His earlier works in oil take us to the Kotwara stories of his childhood, which sometimes erupt subtly, throwing up images of the faded time, and haunting memories through the designs of feudal structures and spaces. Antique wooden frames, arches and earthen colors sometimes tell a story, sometimes break into a hum and sometimes leave you in a dense silence.
These earlier oil paintings and collages depict a strong influence of his past; his painting done in the early ’90s like ‘Spirit of the Wind’,’Keeper of Secrets’, The Secret of the Divine’ suggest that he is one artist who could synchronize his inner belief and outer-worldly experience into static forms. His use of forms like horses, floating calm faces, a celestial landscape on canvases create a very profound metaphor. The idea of surrender - being available to the purest emotion and the moment of creation- is the most important factor of Muzaffar Ali’s work..
Series of works like ‘Through my rear Window’ or arched framed series” he takes you to the confines of the times he lived through. Unlike the other modes of expression of his aesthetics, his paintings take a more personal route. Notably, he is particular about even framing as he perceives the frames as an extension of the paintings. He uses various shapes of wooden arches, pieces of antiques, heavy wooden sections to frame his art. So the frames add to the aesthetic appeal of his works.
We are peeping through the myth of Muzzafar and embarking on a journey to ’The Other Side’. It shows us how he has been a seeker of beauty and grace all his life.
Between what is said, and what is left behind, there is a maze. A mystique of hints in subtle textures and layers of memory and imagination weave in the body and the spirit.
One can be stuck by the process of soaking in this subconscious experience. We frequently encounter in his works his nostalgia, romanticism, the spiritual, the Sufism, his childhood abode in a palace, his association with Kotwara weavers, his love for horses, Urdu poetry and calligraphy, etc .His memory flashes through the arches of the house he lived in, and the objects they had in the house.
He is an explorer of being in what he lives. And what he carries along. Like Kotwara, his legacy, inheritance, and longing remain integral to his style and substance. Both as fable and lived memory.
What you can not miss is his keen observant eye which shows in the way he would see the frames, the sizes, the media and would experiment with all of that.
Though he has been dabbling in art since his childhood and one can notice the significant achievements through this journey of art over the years, Ali is still hungry to find newer expressions beyond what he has already done as a filmmaker, designer, and patron of music.
One can feel the search, the quest, the restless calm within the artist Muzaffar to reclaim what is lost and the ongoing process of finding a newer version of himself. Each time with more finesse and grandeur! He attempts to save a lost world and in the process goes on inventing one more in his signature style.
Even when he paints a layer of white (leaf series) on another of the same, it meanders into a newer translucence. Sometimes it can be both - a splash of the childlike experiment and a calm stroke of a Sufi spirit. He is at ease with both.
In his larger oil works, Urdu calligraphy abandons its regular shapes and takes some artistic flights. It no more remains a text in the way we know it for the shapes of the letters, but probably even the meanings get morphed into newer dimensions.
Muzaffar keeps reinventing himself. Be it his oil colors, or ‘Through my rear Window’, his collages series. even in his all-white paintings or his experiments with stains of natural colors.
He finds opportunity in the unknown and uses it to his advantage. The landscapes from his childhood, his horse, portraits, collages of cloth and papers, layers of colors, use of dry leaves in his paintings, set him to a journey of the unknown each time. Each time, the outcome bringing a sense of delight.
In the beginning, he is trying to say many things in each painting with his strong strokes, colors, and shapes. But later they evolve into shadows and hints of something beneath the layer. He takes artistic flights to find a new narrative - into the unknown and a new blurred space.
He carries his blur: between the shape and the abstract; between the poise and the pause. The penumbra of his consciousness seeps through his work leaving an afterglow as a lingering effect of the undeciphered languages nonetheless.
Muzaffar Ali is on a perpetual journey carrying his Kotwara with him. The outsider in him pining for home. So many of his works show the dialogue between the journey and his permanent address as he keeps shuffling between Delhi, Mumbai, Kotwara, and Lucknow.
One can sense a kind of peace settling around the forms he is coming up with. The use of whites, beige along with layers of other pastel shades narrates the different spaces he has transcended. Muzaffar Ali’s works are an innovative blur between the shape and the abstract, between style and symmetry. his consciousness seeps through his work leaving an afterglow as a lingering effect on the viewer.
- Ruby Jagrut