The Art of talking about Art – 16: P for Pakistan

Seeing that India and Pakistan have chosen to reach out to each other yet again, it’s only fair that we do our bit to help ease this difficult relationship by getting to know our neighbour a little better and taking you on a short and colourful trip to meet five+1 contemporary artists from Pakistan.

“The Bible tells us to love our neighbours, and also to love our enemies; probably because generally they are the same people.” G.K. Chesterton

Seeing that India and Pakistan have chosen to reach out to each other yet again, it’s only fair that we do our bit to help ease this difficult relationship by getting to know our neighbour a little better and taking you on a short and colourful trip to meet five+1 contemporary artists from Pakistan.

Evolving beyond its traditional mediums of miniaturists and calligraphers, the Pakistani contemporary art scene now boasts a multitude of established and upcoming artists whose fresh, innovative work has attracted a great deal of international interest. These five+1 Pakistani artists all express their experience of the country’s diverse social and cultural landscape in varied and fascinating ways.

Huma Mulji

Huma Mulji explores the border between reality and fiction; her works create surreal juxtapositions of absurd ‘things’ and question notions of ‘certainty’ and ‘truth’ through the use of digital imaging, reanimating objects through taxidermy, or creating clumsy, hybrid objects. Her show in Mumbai at Project 88 in 2011 was called Twilight and it was a mix of painting and sculpture. Twilight depicted a world, suspended in a state between day and night, seemly balancing on the edge of reality, neither here nor quite there. This state between two things is continuously played out throughout Mulji’s work, which places itself somewhere between sculpture and painting, photography and installation. You can see more of Mulji’s work here.

Huma Mulji’s Ode to a Tubelight:
Mixed media, silicon lizards, and enamel paint on canvas (72″ x 84″), 2011

Rashid Rana

Rashid Rana, a Pakistani artist from Lahore, produces software-generated composite photomontages that either hang on the wall or digitally drape three-dimensional objects. Originally trained in traditional painting techniques, including the miniaturist techniques that dominate the Lahore region’s art scene, Rana started to experiment with digital media and photography in the mid-1990s. I Love Miniatures (2002), a Mughal emperor’s miniature portrait composed of tiny photographic images of advertising billboards in Lahore, became his breakout piece. Some of his best known works include Veil (2004), a series of giant images of women dressed in burkas entirely composed of tiny Internet-sourced shots of hardcore porn stars from the West and Red Carpet (2007), to name just two. You can see many more of Rana’s work and what he is up to here.

Rashid Rana’s Veil, 2004
3 C prints + DIASEC, 51 x 51 cm each

Abdullah M. I. Syed

An artist, freelance designer, and independent curator, Abdullah M. I. Syed is known for his exploration in political instability, religious and secular tensions, Orientalism, Post-Colonialism, Capitalism, diasporic issues and the tragedy of 9/11 as powerful factors in the construction of contemporary Muslim male identities. His memorable works that resemble drones are constructed from dollar bills folded into the shape of planes and stapled together in circular patterns resemble those of an oriental carpet. Called the Flying Rug, the paper fleet casts an ominous shadow on a nearby wall and navigate between the West and Pakistan. Get to know Syed better here.

Abdullah M. I. Syed’s Weaving Myth III (Flying Rug Series)
Hand-cut and weaved US$ 2 bill and 20 Pakistani Rupee with custom Perspex vitrine 6 x 10 in., 2013

Naiza H. Khan

Naiza Khan’s work is an archaeological exploration on how objects connect with human experience; it examines landscapes that contain ruins of the past and creates narratives that indicate the continuing hold of history on the present. Khan’s work primarily relates to her roots in Pakistan, particularly Manora, as she captures a sense of uncertainty that is broadly felt across the world. Her series titled The Skin She Wears (2008), marks a major departure from Khan’s earlier work related to the female body, in which she uses images of lingerie and straight-jackets and creates ‘armored’ skirts of galvanized steel. Based in Pakistan, Khan has been founder and co-coordinator for the Vasl Artists Collective and part of the Fine Arts Faculty of the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture in Karachi. You can get to know Naiza and her work better here.

Naiza Khan’s Armour Skirt & Armour Lingerie
Galvanised Steel

Syeda Farida Batool

Syeda Farida Batool is both an artist and art historian. She writes on different aspects of fine arts for journals, and has participated in a number of solo and group shows and also makes short films on art and art-related subjects. Her main medium used in her art practice is lenticular printing which involves ‘interlacing’ photographs and then mounting them behind a lenticular lens to make it appear animated and three dimensional. Her works explore the effects of consumer culture, sectarianism, the relationships between the state and its citizens. You can get to know Syeda and her work better here.

Farida Batool’s Love Letter to Lahore (2006)
Lenticular print 20 x 29.5 in

Haider Ali, King of Truck Art

No post on art in Pakistan is complete without a hat-tip to truck painting. And that brings us to Haider Ali, the uncrowned King of truck art. Ali, who is from Karachi, was seven when his father first taught him the art of truck painting. At 16, he took on his first job, but was unsure of his skills. Ali spent nights practicing the paintings that he would apply to trucks during the day. It wasn’t until he painted trucks at the Smithsonian that Ali realized that he was good at his job. Now, twenty-seven years after his education began, Ali teaches the next generation of truck painters. He is also part of Phool Patti, an organization that promotes truck artists from Pakistan across the world. Check out Haider Ali’s Facebook page here.

Finally, a word of advice from Pawan Mishra, author of the rather funny Coinman: An Untold Conspiracy, “Good neighbours always spy on you to make sure you are doing well.” And on that note, keep discovering more things about Pakistan. You can be sure we’ll do our bit to help you. Bon Voyage.

Previous Editions:

Update: We have compiled the entire series of blog posts on The Art of Talking About Art in one place. To read other editions of the series, click here.

Avinash Subramaniam

Avinash has been an advertising writer, fiction writer, poetry writer, freelance writer and serial wronger. Other roles he has been in include those of an editor, brand builder, and teacher. His interests include advertising, scrabble, body building, chess, cinema, making money, reading, internet culture, cricket, photography. To hear him air his thoughts, follow him on Twitter @armchairexpert.

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