.............. ........ Abu Jafar
Essay by Phill King



At an opening in Hackney Pascal. introduces me to Jafar and we fall into an involved conversation about finding studio space. Pascal has managed somehow to get himself a free space in a soon to be demolished Council Block and I'm celebrating the low rent on the small garage which I'm using as a studio. Jafar is intending to move down from the North of England and is looking for space so I go through the various lame suggestions about where and how he might go about finding one. He says that he's going to look at one the next day and asks if I'll come along and see what I think. It turns out that it is out in Woolwich by the London Airport somewhere I've not been so intrigued, I agree to meet him the next day.. as he's leaving he casually tells me that it is 6000 sq ft. in size. Modernity shifts its basis continuously; it is a kind of perpetual change. When conditions don't shift quickly enough the results can be a kind of war.
Logistics are the basis of modernity, moving things from one place to the next. Speed, violence, transformation are the qualities of a shattering machinery which undermines its own ground. We can only stand and stare at the scale of these operations. Where can a public art find its site in a world where sites are swept away continuously? Meeting at Tower Hill we head out east on the Docklands Light Railway. Jafar is enthusiastic about the opportunities the ongoing development of the old London docks offers artists. I'm beginning to get a notion of the scale of his ambition. It's a beautiful sunny day as the driverless toy like train trips happily through the grinding jumbled environment whose size always amazes me. Pascal was telling me this morning about Jafar's vast studio in Lancashire. I'm impressed. Somehow Abu's driving desire begins to animate my perception of what I once saw as a kind of broken down difficult and somewhat inhospitable desert. He seems to understand things effortlessly on a level flush with a developing modernity. This attitude seems able to invent a paradoxically refreshing authenticity in the heat of self-conscious post-modernism. Glass turns to ice in the unexpected glint of a modernist dream.

Metal and glass are the materials whose combination defines a particularly corporate architecture. In Brick Lane office buildings are beginning to cut into the dark crumbling Georgian surroundings. Right across the East End such gleaming blades slice through the breaking down, broken down fabric of houses, commercial building and crammed in Council blocks. The muddled expanse of the area becomes the tabula rasa of planner's drawing boards. Imagination falters and is wrenched apart before this scattered and scattering vista. He tells me of how, when he was at school he used to be paid by other students to do detailed drawings for their science assignments. This develops into a general conversation about drawing. He says "drawing, drawing, drawing. I always drew. Once I drew a Heron, like this". He quickly draws a bird for me on a scrap of paper. "My father saw me doing this flying Heron and told me 'Jafar you know you are not allowed to do that'. It was breaking the Muslim prohibition on figurative pictures. I come from a small village, Jhilna in Patuakhali district of Bangladesh. Since my father told me to stop drawing I would draw only at night. I couldn't get art materials; it is a very rural environment.... Later my uncle (Abdur Rab) who encouraged me and my mother did too... I just drew all the time when ever I could". This story feels familiar to me in as much as my own drawing was always a bit compulsive in class I doodled continuously, illicitly filling my exercise books with elaborate designs. Jafar smiles and tells me how he used to draw on the blackboard when the teacher was out of the room.

" There was a Hindu house near my school with a statue of the Goddess Durga... the one with ten hands. I was very fascinated, one day skipping prayers time & I stay at the class room to drew her on the blackboard. When I finished the drawing I felt so happy and for got to erase the picture from the blackboard, time was running out the class teacher and my class mates came back to the class, I was sitting on my place and class began for the session then every one looking at the board and my teacher face went red, and asked who drew this. I was afraid, so I kept quiet. Then he said that it is really a good picture, if any one done from this classroom he would give him a special prize. I put my hand up then he call me to come forward near to the blackboard and beat me up for the drawing. But it was not the end of my drawing. Of course then I drew even more, I copied cinema billboards on the blackboards, I had a captive audience of pupils.. this was when I started to get paid to do their science drawings.. I used to get good money!"
Abstraction is a way out of the interdiction on representational figures of animals and humans in Muslim art. Pattern arabesque, rhythm and formal design become a kind of information that energises a nature of non-representational writing. Calligraphy returns to Western Modernism as an iconoclastic force while in other traditions it reflects an accepted language. Plugging into the high ambition of American Abstract expressionism means the work plays on a double culture authority. Through the meeting of calligraphy and existentialism the questions of signature and identity come back into play to be drowned in a kind of liquid light. This is a kind of event, if by that word we can mean a nature of poetic ending. Something that happened is happening (and will happen) Jafar's painting reflect a quest for identity and its loss, a quest that encompasses the shards thrown up by a disastrous modernity. Together with Jafar's proposals for vast reflective steel sculptures the paintings articulate a drama with a confident public flourish. From the link between drawing and writing figures are quickly indicated before being slowly swamped in a colourful flood.

Jafar calls me and I go round to his home to help out with a press release. He shows me drawings and plans of the event he is planning in Brick Lane Banglatown. It is related to a previous piece of work that took place in a field on the outskirts of Brockhall Village, Lancashire. There Jafar harvested snow, rolling into bales while drawing long lines along the ground. Each snow roll was propped up with a sheet of glass which at first, looking at the photograph, I took to be ice. Hot and cold operate in the shock of one elegant image. He offers me a poster depicting the piece. In the plan for Brick Lane he is preparing actual bales of hay, these will rest on glass sheets and will be wrapped in coils of canvas strips which trailing back along the road are covered in signatures harvested from pupils at a local school. The use of signatures as a kind of decoration, as a affirmation of identities which are then swept up into the ongoing logic of an elaborate art project, calls attention to signing as an activity.. a kind of flourishing. This is the nature of Jafar's work.

At the recent Jackson Pollock exhibition I was similarly struck how Pollock's signature became progressively embroiled into becoming part of his paintings, to the point that the paintings themselves become a kind of signature. Jafar's project immerses itself in that kind of intensity. Just as in the Italian 'Arte Povera' movement of the 1960's the ground of painting joins with the floor itself to become a field, Jafar's art becomes such a ground. I begin to see how the move from a rural environment to an area of a city going through massive change is for Jafar a movement from one field to another. He spoke me once of the play of light on the water near his home, the sun across the landscape, now snow, glass and steel catch the light. " I like this place" he says gesturing from the toy London Docklands train. "It is change". We look out over the old docks, over the river to the Millennium Dome and I begin to realise that he understands in a startlingly sensuous way the ground level on which all this is a based. This understanding is his ambition, something that drives him around the vast spaces of this apparently into hospitable environment. His desire is able to act on this surface, the roads themselves become intertwining gestures, a graffiti whose traces become a sign of flourishing life. This perceptual field is an infectiously affirmative experience. We smile at each other. I thought that I was somehow beyond this enthusiasm but now find myself standing on it. Vertigo. The blurring of distinction between figure and ground is a major factor in decorative art. In the classical arabesque rhythm and pattern sweep both terms into an active mixture. In Islamic traditions writing and decorative design become similarly fused, design and sign become one form. Jafar's work welds together signature and painterly decoration as a ground, which then, (after a while) emerges as a figure working energetically within the environment. This shared emerging figure is endlessly at home because it continually draws its own ground. Rather than basing a landscape on a grid we find its foundation in the movement of a dynamic arabesque.. in a flourish of signatures.

Jafar's practice replaces perspective with the swift appearance and disappearance of fleeting figures, scribbles and signatures drowned in his works reflection. Rather than the gridded coherence of an American city such as New York (for example) Jafar inhabits London as a site founded on consistency of continual interruption. He looks for places to site his open and active public art drawing on an experience of a sinuous line. Mobile, broken and sometimes difficult to grasp even as it catches the light, Jafar's plan reminds of the Heron he sketched me on a piece of paper. I caught sight of one these large birds yesterday down by the canal near his studio and thought (oddly enough) of Jafar's projects as it took flight. His proposed monuments, his painting installations, the involved art event he is planning reflect an unhurried interlacing, a body of work which I can neither wholly figure out nor abandon as unfigurable. This open questions is a pleasurable one, it has its own growing momentum as it takes off and accelerates across discontinuous fields, a swift, yet unhurried flight from pre-industrial environment to a post-industrial one.

When the distinction between city and rural life is washed away in a tangled rhythm of roads there is an opportunity to investigate new sites for art. Jafar's project becomes for me a kind of writing between projects. It is able to draw itself as a multi-dimensional support, the continual liquid basis for fundamentally heterogeneous realities. It works as a number of proposals. It is the project of a starting manifestation of a immanent growth of artistic desire beyond itself. This drawing is one which indicates and affirms a flood of sensational appearances. Abstraction ambition therefore becomes (momentarily and monumentally) animate.