Mala Iqbalby Hrag Vartanian
In Bellwether’s pristine space on Grand Street, Mala Iqbal’s paintings are alluring and even titillating. A Staten Island native, she says in her artist statement that her work is partly a product of her childhood environment.
Horizon lines are contorted and large skies often loom over strongly foregrounded objects, never people, and these things are often in focus while the rest of the work is blurred. Her larger works, like "Fall Follies" (2003), seem to stretch beyond the limits of what they have to say. They strain to articulate what the smaller works do easily. In the larger works, Iqbal’s sprayed technique is distracting and not as clever; in fact, it is very kitschy.
A smaller work on paper, like "Mushroom and Bricks" (2002), is magical and sensitive. The close-up juxtaposition of the organic forms against the rough red background allows Iqbal to contrast her technique and creates a tension that is arresting.
Two other works, "Crazy Flowers" (2003) and "Starred Plants" (2002), demonstrate another overall effect she revisits again and again. It is an urban American chinoiserie of sorts. Placed against a rough wall-like surface, the plants contort with an arabesque quality along twisting branches. Iqbal’s world is germinated by shiny dollar store art that brings the quirky third-world manufacturers to first world consumers and displays their cultural heritage for a discounted price. Iqbal uses those visualizations and superimposes them on the world around her.
In "My View" (2003) the urban skyline stays close to the bottom edge of the page, like a seventeenth century Dutch landscape. The angular clouds swirl in the sea of a bright red sky. It is deceptively pretty but anyone that has lived somewhere that experiences such piercing redness in the sky, knows that such intensity is often the result of pollution—the joke is very clever. Again the contrast of the delicate silhouette of the city with the canopy of the sky is the key to the tension that makes the image intriguing. Now the question is whether she can go beyond that one trick she’s mastered. Iqbal has a keen eye for effect but seems to prefer ephemeral visuals to carefully planned and executed images. I like where she’s going but she may be on the express train when she should consider taking the local.
Hrag Vartanian is a writer, critic, and designer. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.