Josheen Oberoi of Saffronart speaks with Adeela Suleman about the trajectory of her art practice
New York: On November 7-8 next week, Saffronart will have it’s inaugural sale of Art of Pakistan. This is a curated selection of modern and contemporary art by established and emerging artists.
An important contemporary artist featured in this auction (including two of her works) is Adeela Suleman. She was born in Karachi, Pakistan and studied Sculpture at the Indus Valley School of Art (1999). Prior to that she completed a Master’s degree in International Relations from The University of Karachi (1995). Suleman has participated in group and solo exhibitions worldwide, including at Gallery Rohtas 2, Lahore, in 2008; Canvas Gallery, Karachi, in 2008; Aicon Gallery, New York, in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011; International Exhibition of Contemporary Art, Bologna, in 2008; and Hanging Fire: Contemporary Art from Pakistan at the Asia Society Museum, New York, in 2009-10.
Her body of work has consistently reflected a deep engagement with political, gender and societal concerns, an interest that was manifest in her years at the university as well. She has previously worked with found domestic objects made of metal, creating sculptures and body amours for women that beautify as much as cage the female figure (like in the work on the left) while her recent body of work sees a move towards a flatter silhouette in her sculptural work.
I had the pleasure of speaking to Adeela in 2010 during her solo show in New York at Aicon Gallery. Here I share with you my conversation with her about her work and the direction her art has taken.
Q: Your oeuvre has always had an underlying stream of social and political consciousness in it. Is that a deliberate choice on your part?
Adeela: I did my Masters in International Relations at the University of Karachi before my BFA and my experience at the university has been an influence in my work. The university was very politically charged and there was a great awareness and involvement amongst the student body. Even at that point, my college projects commented on such issues.
Q: Would you see yourself as an activist as well as an artist?
Adeela: I am not an activist. I am observing and acknowledging because one is aware of the surroundings, we don’t live in a bubble. I am not making a judgment on what should happen or not.
Q: There does appear to be a shift in the language you are using – from the steel utensils’ sculptures in the past few years to the works in your recent exhibition at Aicon Gallery in 2010, which have less volume. Could you talk about that?
Adeela:It has been a natural evolution for me. My college projects used to be about found objects, where I once made a tea fountain in a shrine. I then worked with motorcycles. The presence of utensils in my work came from using gadgets that made the life of women easier. So, I was making these objects my own. Now, I am using the skin of these objects to make the artwork. There is a loss of humor compared to earlier works because I am talking more of death in this suite of works.
Q: Is that also from a growing concern with the political situation in Pakistan and elsewhere in the world, the growing hostilities?
Adeela:Yes, you think about how we carry on with our daily activities when there is so much destruction around because it does not directly affect us. But there is always a tension between life and death, between what to do and not to do. The only thing certain seems to be death.
Adeela:I wanted to use steel sheets like that used in mortuaries. Abdul Sattar Edhi, a great philanthropist started an ambulance network, where he would pick up unclaimed dead bodies, give them a bath and give them a dignified burial. This was on my mind when I started this suite of work. I do small drawings, put them on a computer and look for images I want to use, which are like found objects for me. Once I assemble the complete image, it is transferred to a larger scale and steel sheets are hammered to create them in three dimensions. I work with the craft people, because I am essentially a sculptor and see objects in three dimensions.
You can see more of Adeela’s works from this auction here and learn more about her practice here and here. You can also read a New York Times review of her work here.
Shradha Ramesh on a new group-exhibition at Lahore Art Gallery in Pakistan
Here and Now at Lahore Art Gallery
New York: Last year, a panel discussion at Saffronart in London addressed the question of identity and innovation in Pakistani art. It seems as if the group exhibition of works by Mohammad Ali Talpur, Hasnat Mehmood, Muhammad Zeeshan, Adeela Suleman and Nausheen Saeed that opened at Lahore Art Gallery last week is almost an extension of this discussion. The five artists are among those instrumental in steering Pakistan’s contemporary art to new levels of visibility on the international stage.
The works in the exhibition ‘Here and Now’ represent the artists’ responses to current political and socio-economic issues in Pakistan. The exhibit is a breakthrough both in terms of concept and artistic technique. Mohammad Ali Talpur is known to portray Pakistan in an inimitable light that is known to the world. Adeela Suleman’s expression through found metal objects and industrial materials stands out, and was one of the central attractions at the recent Pulse Art Fair in New York. According to Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper, it is interesting to see how all five artists unanimously convey the same message using very different mediums.
Shradha Ramesh shares a note on the Pakistani artists showcased at this year’s Pulse Art Fair in New York.
New York: The 2013 Pulse Art Fair in New York, the thirteenth of its kind, exhibited an array of contemporary pieces from both established and new artists. This year, their South Asian collection included works by the Pakistani artists Adeela Suleman and Ambreen Butt.
Adeela Suleman, Untitled (The Boat), 2009, Pulse Art Fair 2013
Exhibited by the contemporary London and New York based Aicon Gallery were three pieces by Adeela Suleman. Suleman is known for her metal sculptural pieces which reflect her engagement with political and gender issues.
Ambreen Butt with Carroll and Son, I Am My Lost Diamond.
Ambreen Butt was exhibited in collaboration with Carroll and Son. Butt’s works are known to be inspired by unfortunate events in Pakistan. This work in particular was inspired by the 2010 bombings that occurred in Pakistan and is a small scale version of the original installation which consists of red coloured casts of fingers and toes.
Josheen Oberoi revisits the seminal 2009 exhibition Hanging Fire at Asia Society, New York
New York:Asia Society, the premier global institution promoting understanding between Asia and the United States, held the first museum survey exhibition of contemporary Pakistani art in the United States at their flagship space in New York in 2009. Curated by the renowned writer and curator Salima Hashmi, the exhibition Hanging Fire was a study on the vibrancy and multiplicity of praxis of contemporary artists in Pakistan.
On the occasion of Saffronart’s inaugural auction of Art of Pakistan, starting today, I retrace my steps to a piece I had originally penned for the Saffronart website in 2009. The show included the work of fifteen Pakistani artists in diverse media, many of who are part of the upcoming auction. As a survey exhibition of contemporary artists and art practices in the country, the exhibition served to undermine the monolithic perspective of Pakistan and its art that often still dominates the news media. The artists in the exhibition addressed contemporary concerns ranging from the personal and local to the regional and global, thus offering a glimpse into the active internal dialogues that animate Pakistan. What follows is a brief survey of what I saw.
Hamra Abbas Ride 2 2008 Painted fiberglass and wood Approx. H. 72 x W. 39 x L. 94 in. Image courtesy of the artist and Green Cardamom Image source: http://www.asiasociety.org From the exhibition – Hanging Fire: Contemporary Art from Pakistan, Asia Society, New York, 2009-10
Amongst the works on display was Hamra Abbas‘s Ride 2, 2008, an electric-pink fiberglass sculpture of Buraq (a mythic winged creature – half woman, half horse) believed to be Prophet Mohammad’s holy mare. A popular motif in Pakistan, it is often illustrated in classical narratives. However, it was the folk representation of the Buraq that Abbas reproduced in this life-size work, that claims the religious icon within a female narrative, and, through it, signifies both power and freedom.
Naiza Khan Spine 2008 Galvanized steel and suede leather H. 26 x W. 12 5/8 x D. 6 3/8 in. (66 x 32 x 16 cm) Image courtesy of Mahmood Ali Image source: http://www.asiasociety.org From the exhibition – Hanging Fire: Contemporary Art from Pakistan, Asia Society, New York, 2009-10
Adeela Suleman and Naiza Khan’s works also evoked questions of identity and of the politics of the body. Naiza Khan’s sculpture Spine, 2008, for instance was a corset-like cage made of galvanized steel with red suede stitched over it. The sculpture appeared to be an armour-like trap encompassing and protecting the body, but was also seductive in the choice, colour and texture of the suede. Explaining her work, the artist says, “These objects occupy a place between love and war, and are ambiguous in their position of aggression and seduction.”
The sculptures by Adeela Suleman displayed in the exhibition were made of found domestic objects (tongs, jars, funnels and spoons) and physically resembled the structure of helmets worn by two-wheeler drivers in Pakistan. In Suleman’s works, objects associated with female-use are re-framed within a non-domestic setting, evoking questions of gender roles and boundaries. Also included in the exhibition were photographs of women wearing these object-helmets, bringing immediacy to the works by inserting the gendered self into them.
Mahreen Zuberi Open Wide I 2008 Gouache on wasli H. 9 5/8 x W. 12 5/16 in. Image courtesy of the artist Image source: http://www.asiasociety.org From the exhibition – Hanging Fire: Contemporary Art from Pakistan, Asia Society, New York, 2009-10
Mahreen Zuberi showed six “austerely rendered vignettes” of the symbiotic relationship between pain and pleasure, executed in gouache on Wasli paper. Using the traditional miniature format, the artist presented images of objects that had the relationship of aggressor and victim. In one of the works, for example, disembodied hands holding dentist’s tools probe a similarly body-less mouth set on a flat negative space. This exploration of the human psyche using inanimate objects is a familiar trope for the artist as also seen in the work below from the upcoming Saffronart auction.
Imran Qureshi’s works share the same medium and scale as Zuberi’s, but are deliberately sociopolitical in their intent. Working in the tradition of Mughal miniature portraits, Qureshi contemporarized the figures in his paintings. On the surface, their setting, background and garb appeared traditional, but the figures were depicted exercising with dumbbells or reading contemporary books; questioning stereotyping based on appearance. Qureshi had also installed a site-specific painting at the Asia Society for this exhibition. One of his important works in the current auction that was part of the Hanging Fire exhibition is on the right here.
Like Qureshi, Faiza Butt deals with the issue of stereotyping, but relates it to the recent, global increase in tension and fear. In two of her works on display at Asia Society (Get out of My Dreams, I and II, 2008), she presented noble young men in settings reminiscent of ‘Paradise’, staring out of the frame to meet the viewer’s gaze. A closer examination of the works, however, revealed that the figures are surrounded by symbols of modernity and technology like hairdryers, wine glasses, electric razors, and US currency, and that the young men themselves are bedecked with signifiers commonly linked to contemporary religious radicalism.
Faiza Butt Get out of my dreams I 2008 Ink on polyester film H. 24 x W. 19 in. Image courtesy of the artist Image source: http://www.asiasociety.org From the exhibition – Hanging Fire: Contemporary Art from Pakistan, Asia Society, New York, 2009-10
Huma Mulji High Rise: Lake City Drive 2009 Taxidermic buffalo, sheet metal, fiberglass, henna, and Duco paint H. 137 7/8 x W. 82 7/8 x D. 26 7/8 in. Image courtesy of the artist Image source: http://www.asiasociety.org From the exhibition – Hanging Fire: Contemporary Art from Pakistan, Asia Society, New York, 2009-10
Two of the other artists, Huma Mulji and Asma Mundrawala, dealt with the specific concerns of urban-rural relationships and the changing landscape of Pakistan, albeit in divergent ways. Mulji’s installation (High Rise: Lake City Drive, 2009) – a vulnerable looking taxidermic buffalo placed on a high Greek column – confronted the question of progress as defined by changing economies and the uneasy relationship between urban and rural Pakistan.
Mundrawala confined her work to the context of Karachi and the effects of modernization on its landscape and culture. Her works included pop-up books and a video installation, which re-imagined nostalgic scenes from moments of popular culture. Using photographs of people she didn’t personally know from her family albums, she reinvented idyllic Karachi scenes that did not necessarily exist anymore, “recreating an unsatisfactory world by furnishing it with imagined alternatives”.
A reimagining of oppositions was also seen in Rashid Rana’s photographic montages. In Red Carpet I, 2007, he created an elaborate, vibrant mosaic of a Balochi carpet using images from Pakistani slaughter houses as its minute, bloody components, making his concerns with duality and contradiction explicit. Ayaz Jokhio’s drawings also emphasized the visual impact of physical forms and the incongruity of their different functions. In Diptych No 1, 2008, the image of a pen was juxtaposed with an enlarged drawing of a bullet, startling the viewer with both their visual similarities and the sharp divergence of their functions.
Rashid Rana Red Carpet 1 2007 Edition 1/5; C-print + DIASEC H. 95 x W. 135 in. Image courtesy of Gallery Chemould and Chattertjee & Lal Mumbai Image source: http://www.asiasociety.org From the exhibition – Hanging Fire: Contemporary Art from Pakistan, Asia Society, New York, 2009-10
Bani Abidi’s ironic video titled Shah Pipe Band Learns The Star Spangled Banner, 2004, followed a brass pipe band in Lahore hired by the artist to learn the Star Spangled Banner (the American national anthem). Through this work, the artist captured the anxiety of the uncertain times in Pakistan, and the country’s ambiguous relationship with the West. The futility of the exercise of learning the tune and the irony of it underlined this sentiment for the artist.
Ali Raza Throne II 2008 Burnt paper collage and acrylic on canvas H. 72 x W. 48 in. Image courtesy of the artist Image source: http://www.asiasociety.org From the exhibition – Hanging Fire: Contemporary Art from Pakistan, Asia Society, New York, 2009-10
Also on display were Anwar Saeed’s explicit illustrations in the book, I Pierre Seel, Deported Homosexual, a true story of a boy imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp for being homosexual. By rendering these images, fantastical and sexual in form, the written story of pain and humiliation was made personal by the artist.
Like Saeed, Ali Raza also used text, but as raw material for his paintings. He burned advertisements and used the ash to create collages with acrylic paint, commenting on the issues of censorship and corruption that continue to confront Pakistani society on a daily basis.
Importantly, paintings by Zahoor ul Akhlaq, who died in 1999, were also part of this exhibition. An important figure amongst Pakistani artists, he revived the techniques of miniature painting, and encouraged students to innovate with subject matter. This teaching is evident in one of his works that was on display, the triptych A Visit to the Inner Sanctum 1-3, 1997, which although in the style of miniature painting was abstract in content and form.
This exhibition represented the range and vitality of contemporary Pakistani art, in terms of medium as well as content. The exhibition, not being too far in the past, is also a significant marker in the continuing practices of these and many other artists living and working in Pakistan.