Art Radar looks at 5 Pakistani artists whose work engages with issues of development, environment and urbanisation.
The five artists showed their work over the summer at Rossi and Rossi in London, in an exhibition curated by Zahra Khan of Project Art Divvy.
The global concerns with environment has led to efforts in almost every field to counter the negative effects of human interventions on the natural balance of the planet. It is not surprising then that the art world too has been caught up with these growing concerns, and has found ways to address and bring to the limelight the repercussions of our growing urbanisation and development. The recent work by Christo and Jeanne Claude at the Serpentine Lake in London’s Hyde Park is just one such example. Lorenzo Quinn’s Support at the 2017 Venice Biennale was equally able to capture the imagination of the world with its use of sculptural hands as they come out of the canal to support Ca’ Sagredo Hotel – a building on the canal, making a statement about the rising sea level and its impact. Besides this, there are countless other artists who are making bold statements about the current state of our environment as a result of human action.
The effects of Global Warming though are considered to be most felt by third world countries, and it is not surprising that the artists of these regions have taken these concerns as subject matter for their works. A recent exhibition at Rossi and Rossi, curated by Zahra Khan of Project Art Divvy, titled “Cultivating Wastelands”, addresses these issues through the work of five young artists from Pakistan. Art Radar caught up with Zahra to ask about why she chose this as her curatorial project. She replied:
I have been noticing trends towards art about land and changing land formations. Artists are creating work about the impact of human behaviour on their surroundings and also about the impact on their surroundings on their daily lives and on their art. The artists in this show each approach this from a different perspective and their methods and aesthetics are quite different. Their practices are primarily research driven and they build a narrative through archiving, investigating and analysing. Each of their artworks are thoughtful and part of a larger exploratory project.
The five artists in this show have taken a lead in addressing these concerns, and Art Radar takes this opportunity to inspect their work more closely.
1. Suleman Aqeel Khilji
Suleman Aqeel Khilji’s work explores the intrusion that manmade objects have made within landscapes that he has come to know in his birth place of Balochistan due to human activities. His works are a result of his exploration and an analysis of the rugged brown mountainous region, which he contrasts with colorful anomalies. The colour versus the black and white background brings one to a sharp realisation of how this intrusion is a much powerful reality of today. The reality in comparison continues to be ignored or retreated to the background despite existing for centuries.
Khiliji’s practice has matured over the years – and while he himself classifies his work as an “idea of transition and an individual drawing of understanding the noticed and the overlooked” – his subject matter has evolved in its seriousness. He relies on a number of media for his work, including digital art, print, photography and drawing.
2. Seher Naveed
Seher Naveed’s work addresses our growing fetishism with security elements in urban centres like Karachi. The subject matter has also been explored by Bani Abidi, in her body of her work, “Security Barriers”. However, Naveed’s work focuses on the individual efforts towards protecting oneself. The result is that the walls have gotten higher and higher, while the gates have gotten stronger. The visual connection that one had with the city and viceversa is completely broken down and eliminated. The idea resonates with that of the Mughal designers who sought to make an impression with their gateways and fort walls.
Her body of work tends to take into account our everyday experiences, with a focus on architectural elements. She employs paper cut, drawing and painting in her practice to communicate her ideas.
3. Zahra Malkani & Shahana Rajani with Abeera Kamran
Zahra Malkani and Shahana Rajani have been collaborating for a considerable period of time, exploring issues of displacement and urbanisation. Their projects such as Karachi LaJamia or Karachi Anti-University, examined alternative means of knowledge creation, as they explored the city and different facets and truths behind its development. Their work has looked at the cost of different development projects in and around Karachi, and includes Gadap Series – about the transformation of the town under a mega-development project – and their most recent work Groundtruthing, which looks at how power and capitalism have come to dominate the environment, in pursuit of an idealised notion of what development should look like.
Their practice is rooted in dialogue, cross-disciplinary research and fieldwork, while at the same time relying on collaborations across the board to allow for a multiplicity of voices, such as their collaboration with Abeera Kamran on Exhausted Geographies. The publication, comprising of two volumes, documents their work and the city of Karachi, with its various facets of development and changing landscapes.
Abeera Kamran herself has been involved in debates around colonisation/de-colonisation, and recently co-curated an exhibition at the Birmingham Museum, titled “The Past is Now: Birmingham and the British Empire”. The exhibition looked at the politics of narrative and how it is complicit in creating a certain identity for a said object.
4. Mamoona Riaz
Mamoona Riaz explores the relationship of behaviour with spaces. Her concept revolves around the idea of spaces having the ability of connecting/dis-connecting, as she explores the dynamics of Pakistan’s capital city of Islamabad. Her work takes into account the socio-economic divide that is manifested in the very design of the city and remains an inescapable reality. Her technique of layering allows for multiple narratives to come forth side by side, allowing for a wide variety of opinions to take shape.
5. Omer Wasim & Saira Sheikh
The collaborative duo have worked on multiple projects, bringing forth the inequality triggered by the dynamics of development in urban centres, favouring some and leaving behind others. Their mode of expression through a more archival setting allows one to take distance from the present, thus ensuring space for criticality – one of the basic objectives of their practice.
They have worked in multiple media as suited to their particular studies. In a recent show at Gandhara Art Gallery, “Who gets to talk about whom?”, their work entitled Optics of Labor employed a projection to discuss the role of sweepers and their labour, which hardly results in any substantial success considering the waste management crisis of the city of Karachi and the archaic tools that are at the disposal of these sweepers. This duality has been a preferred tool of their practice right from the beginning, which they bring forth in a scientific language, taking emotions out and reducing their work to a subject under a microscope allowing for objectivity. Their exhibition at Canvas Gallery, titled “24.8615° N, 067.0099° E” looked at the contrast between an upscale residential house against the many structures around it through this same lens.
- “History, Memory or Geometry”: Pakistani artist Waqas Khan at Galerie Krinzinger, Vienna – October 2018 – Art Radar has a look at the Pakistani artist’s work on show
- “Who Gets to Talk about Whom?”: a collaborative exercise of knowledge creation at Gandhara Art Space, Karachi – August 2018 – curator Hajra Haider Karrar and her team look into collaborative practices
- “Pale Sentinels”: an art dialogue between Pakistan and India at Aicon Gallery, New York – July 2018 – the group show congregates an all-embracing set of artists from Pakistan and India whose works reflect the ferocity of the 1947 Partition and its enduring outcomes
- “Drawn To Form II: Marking New Spaces”: a union of ceramics and drawing at Koel Gallery, Karachi – July 2018 – the current exhibition on view at Koel Gallery explores the dynamics of power between drawing and ceramics, rooted in the very history of the region
- 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
Subscribe to Art Radar for more news on contemporary Pakistani artists