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.
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.
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.
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.
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’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’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’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.
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.
“Pale Sentinels” is on view from 28 June to 28 July 018 at Aicon Gallery, 35 Great Jones Street, New York, NY 10012.
- “Drawn To Form II: Marking New Spaces”: a union of ceramics and drawing at Koel Gallery, Karachi – July 2018 – the exhibition at Koel Gallery explores the dynamics of power between drawing and ceramics, rooted in the very history of the region
- “Modus Operandi”: exploring modes of art making and nurturing future generations of art collectors at Chemould Prescott Road – gallery director interview – July 2018 – the exhibitionshowcases the works of 29 Indian artists
- Khushamdeed, Welcome: Manchester Museums acquire works by Pakistani artist Waqas Khan – April 2018 – Manchester Museums & Gallery Partnership acquire the neon series “Khushamdeed” by Lahore-based artist Waqas Khan
- “I Wish to Let You Fall Out of My Hands (Chapter I)”: Bangladeshi filmmaker Naeem Mohaiemen and Pakistani artist Bani Abidi – in conversation – February 2018 – the show examines longing, memory, identity, dislocation and loss through architecture, form and space
- My East is Your West: Rashid Rana and Shilpa Gupta in Venice – interview – June 2015 – internationally acclaimed artists Rashid Rana and Shilpa Gupta talk about their collaboration in the collateral exhibition “My East is Your West” at the 56th Venice Biennale
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