The group show features artists from Pakistan and India whose works reflect the ferocity of the 1947 Partition and its enduring outcomes.

Pale Sentinels” at Aicon Gallery, New York, is curated by Salima Hashmi, an acclaimed artist, writer, activist and Founding Dean of the School of Visual Arts & Design at the Beaconhouse National University, Lahore, Pakistan.

Ghulam Mohammad, 'Yaad Dasht' (triptych), 2018, perforated pages, 14 x 12 in each. Image courtesy the artist and Aicon Gallery.

Ghulam Mohammad, ‘Yaad Dasht’ (triptych), 2018, perforated pages, 14 x 12 in each. Image courtesy the artist and Aicon Gallery.

Interestingly the title of the exhibition, “Pale Sentinels”, originates from the poem A Prison Morning (Zindaan ke aik subh) by the eminent and celebrated Pakistani poet, and Salima Hashmi’s father, Faiz Ahmed Faiz. It describes the astounding elements of daybreak in a jail cell, the sounds of turning in locks, the exhausted guises of the guards, the somnolent gazes of the prisoners and the shabby yet barred countenance of the ‘pale sentinel’, who watches over the gory narrations between the binary precincts. The exhibition, which is on display at Aicon Gallery in New York, features the works of Pakistani and Indian artists, including Faiza Butt, Waqas Khan, Ghulam Mohammad, Saba Qizilbash and Shehnaz Ismail from Pakistan, alongside Shilpa Gupta, Nilima Sheikh and Priya Ravish Mehra from India. Artists from both sides of the boundary drawn by the Radcliffe line in 1947 come together in this exhibition situated further away from their home.

Shilpa Gupta, 'Border Sky', 2015, digital print on archival paper, Edition of 6, 63 x 29 in. Image courtesy the artist and Aicon Gallery.

Shilpa Gupta, ‘Border Sky’, 2015, digital print on archival paper, Edition of 6, 63 x 29 in. Image courtesy the artist and Aicon Gallery.

Each artist in this group has engaged with the restrictions and borders at hand. Khan, Mohammad, Qizilbash, Gupta and Butt represent a generation born decades after the substantial partings of 1947. Unswervingly or implicitly, each of them addresses ideas of atonement, whereas the older generation – Sheikh, Ismail and Mehra – are more poised in their respective reactions.

Priya Ravish Mehra, 'Untitled 6', 2016, cotton fabric fragment with Daphne pulp, 24.5 x 18 in.

Priya Ravish Mehra, ‘Untitled 6’, 2016, cotton fabric fragment with Daphne pulp, 24.5 x 18 in. Image courtesy the artist and Aicon Gallery.

This exhibition carries deep significance for the art community as well, as it is the first New York showing of Priya Ravish Mehra who passed away in May this year. Her lifespan connection with rafugaris (traditional darners) is embodied in her work as a fascinating symbol. The hypothesis of healing is presented as a restorative technique of cherished self-knowledge.

Saba Qizilbash, 'Water-Barriers', 2017, graphite and wash on watercolour board, 15 x 60 in. Image courtesy the artist and Aicon Gallery.

Saba Qizilbash, ‘Water-Barriers’, 2017, graphite and wash on watercolour board, 15 x 60 in. Image courtesy the artist and Aicon Gallery.

Saba Qizilbash, 'Karachi to Jodhpur-Transborder Train', 2017, graphite and wash on watercolour board, 15 x 60 in. Image courtesy the artist and Aicon Gallery.

Saba Qizilbash, ‘Karachi to Jodhpur-Transborder Train’, 2017, graphite and wash on watercolour board, 15 x 60 in. Image courtesy the artist and Aicon Gallery.

The black-and-white graphite pieces by Saba Qizilbash, Water-Barriers and Karachi to Jodhpur Trans Border Train, portray sceneries in Northern India and Pakistan bowdlerised through by highways, thoroughfares, bridges and railroad tracks. The eroded, transformed landscapes seem to give hints of a warning about the fragmentation left and induced by Partition as well as of a potential future of the land.

Waqas Khan, 'Untitled 1'. Image courtesy the artist and Aicon Gallery.

Waqas Khan, ‘Untitled 1’. Image courtesy the artist and Aicon Gallery.

Waqas Khan’s works on paper, Untitled 1 and Untitled 2, are similar in monochromatic index as Qizilbash’s. His delirious drawings are minimalist in nature and resemble webs and cosmic regions. The contemplative execution of the work leaves a discernable, quasi-tactile substance on paper. He uses small dashes and miniscule dots to create large entanglements. Khan’s corporeal landscapes are scattered with distinctive marks assembled as united masses and shapes. These compositions, resembling complex webs and celestial expanses, are spread out and entangled, in sync with each other.

Ghulam Mohammad, 'Untitled'. 2018, Iranian ink on paper collage on Wasli paper, 14 x 12 in. Image courtesy the artist and Aicon Gallery.

Ghulam Mohammad, ‘Untitled’. 2018, Iranian ink on paper collage on Wasli paper, 14 x 12 in. Image courtesy the artist and Aicon Gallery.

Ghulam Mohammad’s triptych Yaad Dasht uses unidentified family photographs as a backdrop for laser-cut Urdu text. Carving through reminiscence, Mohammad propositions instead the cracks and cavities left by Partition’s separation. Text is a visual element in his work, as texts, like images are central to representations and understandings of the world across cultures.

Shilpa Gupta, '1:2138', 2017, vitrine, brass plate, shredded garment, 22 x 20 x 62 in.

Shilpa Gupta, ‘1:2138’, 2017, vitrine, brass plate, shredded garment, 22 x 20 x 62 in. Image courtesy the artist and Aicon Gallery.

Shilpa Gupta’s 1:2138 is a ball of tattered fabric from Bengali jamdani saris, which are essentially handmade on looms in Bangladesh. In her dematerialisation of the sari to its substantial mechanisms, Gupta smears boundaries between separatist goods. Gupta’s Border Sky features five photographs of the cloudy skies above the Wagah Border and the Bangladesh border. Being unaware of which photograph was taken above which border emphasises the insignificance of the boundary on the ground.

Shehnaz Ismail, 'I will meet you yet again', 2018, Rafoogari and screen print on hand woven Pashm wool darned with cotton and silk fabric 108 x 51 in. Image courtesy the artist and Aicon Gallery.

Shehnaz Ismail, ‘I will meet you yet again’, 2018, Rafoogari and screenprint on hand woven Pashm wool darned with cotton and silk fabric, 108 x 51 in. Image courtesy the artist and Aicon Gallery.

The exhibition does not advocate that the vehemence of Partition can be remedied through its exemplification, but propositions the possibility for the future legacies of imperialism to be comprehended from many perspectives. Dangling from the ceiling of Aicon Gallery are two pieces of fabric, one a brilliant magenta and the other a subdued beige, the former belonging to Priya Ravish Mehra and the latter to Shehnaz Ismail. After exchanging the fabrics across the India-Pakistan border, each artist was given the task of applying rafugari to the cloth. This was to portray the emblematic embellishment of cultivation and culture that could somehow restore the shattered history between India and Pakistan. Prevailing beyond the illogical margins inflicted by vehemence and colonisation, these works of art give the exhibition a sentimental supremacy and a hopeful aptitude for an unrestrained potential and outlook on history and its ripercussions today.

 Shireen Ikramullah

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“Pale Sentinels” is on view from 28 June to 28 July 018 at Aicon Gallery, 35 Great Jones Street, New York, NY 10012.

Related topics: Indian artists, Pakistani artists, social, political, identity art, migration, installation, gallery shows, events in New York

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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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