Manchester Museums & Gallery Partnership acquire Waqas Khan’s neon series Khushamdeed.

Now gracing the doorways of the Whitworth, Manchester Museum and Manchester Art Gallery, the signs reassure visitors of their welcome in the city’s cultural sanctums.

1.Waqas Khan, ‘Khushamdeed IV’. Photo: Michael Pollard. Image courtesy Manchester Art Gallery.

Waqas Khan, ‘Khushamdeed IV’, 2017. Photo: Michael Pollard. Image courtesy Manchester Art Gallery.

Khushamdeed – خوش آمدید – Welcome

This Urdu word has occupied the entrances of three Manchester art spaces, emitting a soft, inviting glow before what lies within. The neon series by Pakistani artist Waqas Khan has been recently acquired by the Manchester Museums & Gallery Partnership and have been installed at the Manchester Museum, the Whitworth and Manchester Art Gallery. Their public display, the artist hopes, will assure visitors that there is nothing to be afraid of inside, that these institutions invite newcomers and respect their anonymity. These are deemed “judgement-free” zones.

The signs entitled Khushamdeed II, III and IV (2017) were created as a cohesive series to unify a programme of exhibitions called “New North and South” that ran across Manchester in September of last year. The event was enacted by eleven organisations across Northern England and South Asia, opening the floor to conversations about shared cultural heritage and cross-continental exchange.

1.Waqas Khan, ‘Khushamdeed III’. Photo Michael Pollard. Image courtesy Manchester Museum.

Waqas Khan, ‘Khushamdeed III’, 2017. Photo: Michael Pollard. Image courtesy Manchester Museum.

Alistair Hudson, Director of the Whitworth and Manchester Art Galleries, commented on the recent procurements:

It is a perfect fit for us to acquire Waqas Khan’s work Khushamdeed II and IV at Manchester Art Gallery and the Whitworth. The Khushamdeed series are operational not representational, acting as a sign to welcome people into our cultural institutions, as public places for people of all walks of life to come together. We hope the word Khushamdeed will be adopted by residents of Manchester as a symbol of kindness.

1.Waqas Khan, ‘Khushamdeed’ (detail). Photo Michael Pollard. Image courtesy the Whitworth.

Waqas Khan, ‘Khushamdeed II’ (detail), 2017. Photo: Michael Pollard. Image courtesy the Whitworth.

The work for which Khan is most famous is an intricate collection of massive miniatures; the oxymoron is intentional, as his drawn installations cover a wall’s entire expanse in painstaking detail. Endlessly subtle stars and bubbles and notes and patterns take the artist months, or years, to complete in his isolated Lahore studio. And it seems to take no less work from his audiences to drink them in. Gazing into his canvas’s illusioned craters is as optically demanding as watching galaxies change shape or tree trunks sew their own rings.

Kahn’s neon projects provide the same beckoning call, but through different means; here the entrances of each gallery or museum is ignited as a portal into something beyond a white cube or elitist structure. The institutions have become hospitable, receiving and expecting, communicating to their visitors in familiar media that everyone is welcome, and further, that everyone is part of something beyond themselves. Even to those who cannot speak Urdu, the signs are understood as a friendly hello. Welcome to the gallery, they say. Welcome to the safe space, welcome to art, welcome home.

Megan Miller


Related topics: Pakistani artists, acquisitions, news, art and the community

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By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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