Art Radar takes a closer look at some of the most influential contemporary South Asian neo-miniaturists.
Following “What is… contemporary South Asian miniature art?”, our recent introduction to the world of Asia’s miniaturists, Art Radar introduces some of the most influential and innovative artists inspired by South Asian miniature art. These artists reinterpret and reinvent miniature art through their contemporary conceptual practices.
Imran Qureshi (b. 1972)
Imran Qureshi’s work ranges from miniature painting to site-specific installation. The artist combines traditional motifs and techniques of Islamic art with contemporary reflections on the relationship between Islam and the West. His investigations into ornamentation reference both the miniature painting of the Mughal tradition and the architectural space for his site-specific works, which address both the building itself and its historical and political meanings. His oeuvre comments on the conflicts that have plagued the South Asian region in the last decades. Recently, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET) in New York held a show of his work, including a rooftop installation commission, and the Deutsche Bank nominated him Artist of the Year 2013.
Shahzia Sikander (b. 1969)
Shahzia Sikander was one of the first artists to experiment with miniature painting in Pakistan and to gain international recognition. She works in various media, including painting, animation, installation, performance and multimedia. Her work explores the integration of Hindu and Muslim culture by combining allegories from both societies and exploring imagery that communicates the hybridity of her experiences, including her personal history, politics and sexuality. Religion is a significant element in Sikander’s art, which explores in particular the role of Muslim women and challenges the view Westerners have of associating Islam only with terrorism and the oppression of women. Her work was part of the Sharjah Biennial 2012.
Aisha Khalid (b. 1972)
Aisha Khalid is influenced by her own personal experiences around gender, aesthetics, the role of women and power relationships between the East and West. She juxtaposes the decorative surfaces of traditional miniature painting with deeply controversial social and political messages. Her work explores issues around cultural expectations, stereotyping, multiple oppressions of women and the global aftermath of 11 September. Her signatures are repetitive, intricate geometric patterns, inspired from the tiled floors from her childhood home (Akhter) and the absence of human facial features, following the Islamic tradition that prohibits the use of faces in iconography. The only recognisable human figures are women in burqa, completely submerged in the pattern, creating a sense of claustrophobia and suffocation. These images are a commentary on gender oppression and the silent suffering of Pakistani women due to the prevalence of domestic violence.
Nusra Latif Qureshi (b. 1973)
Nusra Latif Qureshi’s work juxtaposes traditional motifs and contemporary ideas, with mixed techniques including miniature painting and photography. The historical symbolism of the female figure is a central theme in her work. Her paintings reveal a complex engagement with stereotypes and present history as a collection of overlapping fragments, rearranged to construct new narratives. Isolated female figures foreground layered imagery appropriated from colonial photography, patterns from textiles, silhouettes and botanical paintings. Qureshi often inserts these lone females into examples of iconic South Asian miniatures – an art form known to be male dominated. By depicting figures painted in ghostly outlines Qureshi questions recorded historical truths. Since moving from her native Lahore to Melbourne in 2001, this subjectivity has expanded to include the trials and tribulations of being an immigrant woman in Australian society.
Rashid Rana (b. 1968)
Rashid Rana, trained in traditional painting techniques, turned to digital media and photography in the mid-1990s. His large-scale images or installations are rendered through an impressionist effect, composed of thousands of tiny photographs pasted side by side like a mosaic. I Love Miniatures (2002) is considered his breakout piece: a Mughal emperor’s miniature portrait composed of tiny photographic images of advertising billboards in Lahore. He became notorious with his work Veil (2004), which was never allowed to be shown in his country. The work is a series of giant images of women dressed in burkas entirely composed of tiny Internet-sourced shots of hardcore-porn stars from the West.
Hamra Abbas (b. 1976)
Hamra Abbas’s versatile practice spans a wide range of media, including painting, video, sculpture, sound, performance and installation. The subject matter of her work ranges from everyday settings to religious rituals and the sexual iconography of the Kama Sutra. Abbas appropriates and transforms traditional motifs and styles to examine questions of conflict within society.
A remarkable re-interpretation of miniature painting can be found in her 2004 series of works Lessons on Love, where she ‘translates’ erotic miniature paintings from the Kama Sutra into large-scale sculptures. The Kama Sutra proclaims hunting to be one of the important social arts, and that without mastering this activity one cannot achieve aesthetic and sexual pleasure. In one of her sculptures, a couple sits in coitus while hunting. By transforming the ancient illustrations into life-size sculptures, Abbas makes a wry comment on the paradoxical relationship between sex and violence.
Hasnat Mehmood (b. 1978)
Hasnat Mehmood‘s miniature art has evolved over the years in different directions, including installations, mixed media, collages and drawings. As the artist states, “For me miniature painting has opened up a dialogue of self-criticism and appreciation through the lens of history”. The artist believes in the continual renewal of one’s art practice, whether conceptually or formally. There should always be some elements of surprise.
The series Portraits: The Inquiry Of Art (2011) is an installation work that investigates the very basics of Pakistani art in the present times. Mehmood asked his colleagues to provide the names of the people (writers, visual artists, poets, directors, musicians or anybody else) who have inspired their work or represent their philosophy. These names were then inscribed onto small size handmade books and placed on a shelf, resulting in a “portrait” of the artist, critic, or curator. The project is a historical chronicle that maps the influences that construct what Pakistani art looks like today.
An example of his miniature inspired work is the series Courtesy of V&A Museum. The work questions in an ironic way the museum’s collection of miniature paintings from the sub-continent that was once colonised by the British. The idea came after the artist asked the Victoria and Albert Museum for high-resolution images of some of the miniature paintings from their collection for research and education purposes. The museum sent the images with directions for reproductions: whenever an image is used, it has to have “courtesy of V&A museum” written or printed under it and easily readable. The artist made large-scale graphite drawing reproductions of these miniature paintings and put the V&A credit line underneath each.
Saira Wasim (b. 1975)
Saira Wasim‘s work reflects her background and the transition ‘in between’ her old and new homes – Pakistan and the United States – and the political coalition and contradiction between them. In a series of miniature paintings in which she portrays American character Ronald McDonald along traditional Pakistani motifs and figures, Wasim comments on a changing world where, she says, “we are being squeezed between these two opposing forces [of] MacWorld versus Islamic fundamentalism.” The artist criticises the vicious circle in which contemporary society situates itself, where profits are given importance over people, precious resources are siphoned, the rights and sovereignty of nations are trampled by parochial hatred, and political acts of violence are legitimised in the name of religion. But, the artist says, MacWorld and Islamic fundamentalism have something in common – “both share intolerance towards other cultures and a disregard for diversity, both seek to impose their version of the world on others.”
In her 2010 video animation Lines of Confrontation, Wasim comments on the destructive outcome of the War on Terrorism. It narrates the calamities of hi-tech War on Terror against medieval, stone-age combatants. The video also comments on the war on terrorism’s impact in her home country: 35,000 people were killed in a war that was imposed by ‘a friend’ and was finally made Pakistan’s own war. Pakistan has suffered serious losses by flanking its ally, the United States. The ten-year long war on terror has cost the country billions of dollars and the region is as unsafe as ever before.
Faiza Butt (b. 1973)
Faiza Butt’s miniature-inspired practice includes mixed media drawings, collage and photography. Her elaborate drawings are crafted using a technique of tiny dots akin to Pointillism and create surfaces that hover between photography and embroidery. Her images explore current and controversial issues of politics, gender and identity.
Many of her works include images of Muslim men found in assorted newspapers and magazines. These men are represented with a fantastical narrative, objectified into a surreal spectacle. In doing so, the artist seems to be reacting to the portrayal of women as ‘objects of desire’ in art history.
Ali Kazim (b. 1979)
Ali Kazim is interested in exploring the human body, which for the artist “is complex both in its physicality and as a thematic concern.” The body, a core that performs everyday functions, keeps on doing its tasks even without our conscious knowledge, while it goes through various emotional and spiritual stresses. Kazim’s works are what he calls “glimpses of those moments it goes through.”
The artist feels a close connection with the process of making, which is as important as the outcome of that process. The amount of time spent, both physically and emotionally, creating a work makes it all the more connected to oneself. During the creative process, the mind transfers the spiritual experience on the surface of the image or form. The artist says about his works: “These fossilised memories of everything that happened (spiritually) at the time of making I consider reflections of the self.” This view can be seen in his works, which represent the artist, the body and the hidden mind.
Noor Ali Chagani (b. 1982)
Noor Ali Chagani explores the ancient technique of clay brick-making using kilns. He makes his own bricks in miniature size that act as units for his art objects, as a sort of ‘translation’ of the small brush strokes used in miniature painting. Chagani constructs his own walls with miniature bricks and paints them in a similar fashion to the walls built around the private and disputed properties.
The brick is a unit of strength, power and support. The artist uses it to talk about land ownership, possession and the constant struggle between retaining one’s identity and yet blending with the masses. The brick also communicates the need to be a part of a strong organisation, the struggle to fit in, making a place for oneself in a system. Chagani was shortlisted for the Jameel Prize 2011, an international award for contemporary art and design inspired by Islamic tradition.
C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia
- Pakistan’s Naiza Khan wins 2013 Prince Claus Award – September 2013 – Naiza Khan wins award for her courage in raising public awareness on controversial social and political issues
- A window onto the world: 5 female artists from Pakistan – September 2013 – five artists are proving that things are changing, with artworks that question traditions and provide a glimpse into the lives of women in their country
- Tradition and Regeneration: Imran Qureshi at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York – picture feast – June 2013 – Pakistani artist Imran Qureshi’s rooftop installation at the MET blends traditional Islamic motifs and techniques with contemporary conceptual art
- Shahzia Sikander questions authority with new video art medium at Para/Site in Hong Kong – September 2009 – Pakistani miniaturist and video-maker Shahzia Sikander holds debut show in China
- Two emerging Pakistani miniature artists on show in US for first time – March 2009 – a gallery in San Francisco holds a two-person show for emerging Pakistani miniature artists
Subscribe to Art Radar for more on contemporary miniature art from Pakistan