MIDDLE EAST SOUTH ASIA ART
Two influential art enterprises, Green Cardamom and Middle Eastern gallery The Third Line co-present Lines of Control, a fascinating series of exhibitions in Dubai, Karachi and London comprising both seminal and new works by 18 artists. Arguably this is a show of some of the most respected artists from the Middle East and South Asia working in contemporary art today.
The series which was initiated by the Green Cardamom in 2007, the 60th anniversary of the partition of the subcontinent, explores both the chaos and the productive capacity of partitions through the practice of visual art.
The Third Line, Dubai: 15th January – 8th February 2009
VM Gallery, Karachi: 28th January – 28th February 2009
Green Cardamom, London: 18th February – 27th March 2009
Theme of the show: Partition
These last two years – 2007 and 2008 – mark the 60th anniversaries of two groups of nations that were ‘made’ through partitions: firstly, the independence of India and the creation of Pakistan (itself partitioned 24 years later to form another new nation – Bangladesh), and secondly, the creation of Israel from British-controlled Palestine. Both partitions have cast long shadows in world history and had an unprecedented impact. The 1947 fracture of India led to over 15 million people being displaced, and an estimated one million deaths over a few brutal weeks. The aftermath of Israel’s creation remains arguably the leading cause for global geo-political instability.
Art can be a means to explore areas of life where words fail us, and partitions and their aftermath are ripe for such exploration. Lines of Control is not only about commemorating the past, but about current lives in partitioned times: South Ossetia, Baghdad’s Green Zone/Red Zone, Israel’s ‘security barrier’, Kosovo, the Kurdish population in Iraq and Turkey, Cyprus, Northern Ireland, Pakistan’s tribal areas, India’s minority provinces – are all testimony to the seductive simplicity of drawing lines as a substitute for learning how to live with each other. Living these lines is a messy, bloody business but also offers a productive space where new nations, identities, languages and relationships are forged.
Interview with curator Hammad Nasser
Art Radar: How have the artists differed in the way they approached the subject?
Identity, nation, memory, history, borders
HN: The subject is vast – covering notions of identity and nation, as well as memory, history and borders.
In researching the topic and the works of artists that have addressed it, we were keen to include works that have become seminal, as well as encourage the production of new works.
Seminal works: Pakistani artist Rashid Rana
So among the 18 artists who participated in Lines of Control, nearly half showed existing works, in many cases borrowed from private collections. Rashid Rana’s large scale composite image, All Eyes Skywards at the Annual Parade, of a crowd waving Pakistani flags as it admires a fly-past is composed of thousands of stills from Bollywood films. A poignant commentary on Pakistani identity, despite best efforts, being defined by the other.
New works: Naeem Mohaiemen
Among the new works created I will pick out a wonderful set of digital prints and an accompanying stack of stamps bearing the portrait of Kazi Nazrul Islam, the Bengali poet who resisted Partition before losing his ability to speak.
In these companion works, the Dhaka and New York based-artist Naeem Mohaiemen excavates history to show how the governments of India, Bangladesh and Pakistan all tried to project their own political fantasies on the mute figure of the revered poet. By isolating Kazi’s eyes in public photographs, Mohaiemen argues that his eyes register their silent protest at these political machinations.
Collaborative work, embroidery: Indian artist Nalini Malani and Pakistani Iftikhar Dadi
Bloodlines, a collaboration between the Indian artist Nalini Malani and the Pakistani Iftikhar Dadi, is both old and new. The work was conceived by the artists, and made by embroiderers in Karachi initially in 1997. It is perhaps the first collaborative work between artists from both countries. For Lines of Control it has been realized again by Mr. Abdul Khaliq and his team in Karachi.
The individual panels, with their flat panels of coloured sequins, mimic the mapping process that defines borders, supposedly with detached objectivity. However, the red border lines, drawn by the Radcliffe commission as part of the de-colonization process, run across this field of gold as arbitrary lines of blood. The artists describe the dense golden sequins as “enacting an allegory of the individual, affirming its uniqueness and their diversity, yet also suggesting that their coming together illuminates and enriches the entire region without limit”.
AR: Have there been any unusual, unexpected or interesting responses from viewers, critics?
The exhibitions have been very well received in Dubai and Karachi, by audiences who have lived through the Partition, by students who know of it only through history books and by critics.
Perhaps the most touching reaction was by an audience member with tears in her eyes as she listened to and observed the Home project by Sophie Ernst: video clips of artists talking to their parents and grandparents about the homes they left behind at the time of Partition, projected on to small scale architectural models of the places described.
AR: Why were these 3 cities chosen? Are different responses expected in the different cities?
HN: Lines of Control is an ongoing project, and after the initial focus on India’s partition, we start looking at Palestine and other partitions in the Middle East. Thus it was important that we involve multiple geographies and engage people around histories that are not their own but have many similarities. With South Ossettia, Kosovo, Baghdad, Cyprus — even Belgium for goodness sake — all in the news in recent months; we have to learn how to live in peace with our partitioned selves.
AR: Do you think travelling art shows can play a part in healing partitions, rifts?
HN: I am not sure I believe that art can change the world. But I do believe that art has a role to play in helping us understand phenomenon where words fail us. Artists, by reaching us outside language, allow us to find new avenues of enquiry and reflection. Healing comes with understanding, and art can certainly help us understand in a way that is not didactic.
AR: What is different about a travelling art show compared with a static one confined to one country?
HN: Its a hell of a lot harder work! But less flippantly, putting together exhibitions is also a learning process. And by working in this way where we have worked with three locations, three very different spaces and three different contexts, it gives us a chance to develop a much more nuanced understanding of what we are dealing with. Speaking personally, I am learning more about each work and some of the notions they explore through every interaction I have with them. Hopefully we will be able to use this in taking the project forward.
The exhibitions include works by Bani Abidi, Roohi Ahmed, Farida Batool, Rana Begum, Iftikhar Dadi and Nalini Malini, Anita Dube, Sophie Ernst, Ahsan Jamal, Amar Kanwar, Tariq Khalil, Ahmed Ali Manganhar, Naeem Mohaiemen, Raqs Media Collective, Rashid Rana, Seher Shah, Abdullah Syed, Hajra Waheed and Muhammad Zeeshan.
Reviews and writing
Chinar Tree Jan 2009 – Strong informative review of the Dubai show, well worth reading. Concludes that this edition of the on-going show ‘lacks coherence to some extent’. However commends and discusses in detail artwork from the following artists : Anita Dube, Naeem Mohaiemen, Rashid Rana. Interesting quotes:
On comparison of Indian partition with the Holocaust: “Hammad feels that despite this being the case, little thought or attention is paid to the scars or after-effects left by the division of a country and its people. “If you compare the Holocaust in Europe to the partition of India, one has almost spawned a commemorative industry whereas there’s almost no trace of India’s partition. Why are there no memorials or museums commemorating this?” “
On future plans for the exhibition: “Next year we’ll look at partitions in the Middle-East, Palestine, Lebanon and possibly the Kurdish question in Iraq and Turkey, if we find the art. The longer-term plan is to look at this as a global issue, to include international artists and take this to museums around the world.” Hammad Nasser, curator
Art Asia Pacific: A useful background article by Hammad Nasser curator. Discusses the meaning of the exhibition title Lines of Control: a reference to ‘the messy legacy of colonisation’ and to the lenticular print of Farida Batool entitled Line of Control (see article for image).
On partition art’s growth in last decade: “In Partition’s immediate aftermath, most Indian artists were unable, or more probably unwilling, to address its smouldering embers. And in Pakistan, the idea of critically examining Partition opened up the uncomfortable prospect of national existential crisis. Since Partition’s 50th anniversary a decade ago, however, a rich seam of artistic production engaging the topic has emerged.”
Artists’ works discussed in depth: Shilpa Gupta’s Aar Baar, Farida Batool’s Line of Control, Anita Dube’s River/Disease
- more images and website Green Cardamom
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- 3 Pakistani female artists in New York Jan 2009
- Indian contemporary art reaches a new stage of development Dec 2008
- Guide to art scene Tel Aviv Israel Nov 2008