Imran Qureshi’s latest installation at the Metropolitan Museum of Art reinvents tradition to convey messages about life, death and regeneration.
On 14 May 2013, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, unveiled Pakistani artist Imran Qureshi’s site-specific installation on its rooftop. Embodying a mixture of traditional Islamic motifs and contemporary conceptual art, the work comments on violence, life, death and the hope for regeneration.
In 2013, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET) in New York commissioned Pakistani artist Imran Qureshi to create a large-scale, site-specific installation on its nearly 8,000 square foot rooftop terrace.
“The Roof Garden Commission: Imran Qureshi” opened on 14 May and will be on view until 3 November 2013. The work reveals ornamental leaf patterns in bold red acrylic paint splashed on the roof’s surface and worked into motifs deriving from traditional Islamic art.
The Garden of Regeneration
The installation, titled And How Many Rains Must Fall Before the Stains Are Washed Clean, from a poem by the Urdu poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz (1911-1984), reflects the artist’s response to violent atrocities of recent years and his earnest hope and desire for peace and regeneration. In the exhibition press release, Qureshi explains how notions of life, death and hope play a pivotal role in his creative process and the messages conveyed through his work.
The dialogue between life and death is an important element in my work. Leaves and nature, for example, represent the idea of life. And the particular color of red that I have been using in recent years can look so real, like blood. The red reminds me of the situation today in my country, Pakistan, and in the world around us, where violence is almost a daily occurrence. But somehow, people still have hope. The flowers that seem to emerge from the red paint in my work represent the hope that—despite everything—the people sustain somehow, their hope for a better future.
Re-birth from “blood and tears”
Qureshi’s site-specific “blood” installations, commenting on violence in the Islamic world, showed at the Sharjah Biennale 10 in 2011, for which he was awarded the First Biennial Primary Prize, and at the 18th Biennale of Sydney in 2012. In 2006, he painted motifs reminiscent of tears at Singapore’s Sultan Mosque for the city’s inaugural Biennale.
The miniature legacy
Imran Qureshi’s work is informed by the Mughal school of miniature painting. Along with his installations, the artist also works with traditional miniature, mixing the classical medium with contemporary subject matter. His current exhibition, “Imran Qureshi: Artist of the Year 2013” at the Deutsche Bank Kunsthalle, showcases his wider oeuvre, including his miniature paintings.
Hammad Nasar, Head of Research and Programmes at Asia Art Archive and Co-founder and Curator at Green Cardamom, talks about how contemporary artists from Pakistan have adopted the miniature style and readapted it to comment on contemporary society. In the catalogue for the 2005 exhibition “Kharkana: A Contemporary Collaboration”, at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Connecticut, Nasar commented,
Pakistan’s young avant-garde artists are embracing traditional mediums. Rather than embracing the colonial attitude of linear progress, they are using tradition as a means towards innovation.
A new wave of “classicists”
The contemporary trend of reinterpreting traditional and classical forms of art is widespread in Asia and has been particularly relevant in China, where a group of pioneer artists, including famous names such as Xu Bing, Gu Wenda, Qiu Zhijie and Zhang Huan, first embraced this movement in the 1980s and 1990s.
On 11 December 2013, the MET will launch “Ink Art: Past as Present in Contemporary China”, an exhibition of contemporary Chinese artists “reinventing” tradition, including Xu Bing’s calligraphy installations, Zhang Huan’s calligraphy performances and Qiu Anxiong’s “ink-brush” animations among others. According to Maxwell K. Hearn, Douglas Dillon Curator in Charge of the MET’s Department of Asian Art, the artworks “may best be understood as part of the continuum of China’s traditional culture.”
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