Ali Adil Khan’s Top 10 from the Art of Pakistan Auction (November 7-8, 2012)

Guest contributor and prolific collector, Ali Adil Khan picks his top works in Saffronart’s Art of Pakistan Auction 

Toronto: My top ten favorite works in the Art of Pakistan Auction have been listed in the slideshow below in order of priority and importance.

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All of the works I have selected are by Pakistani artists who have excelled in contemporary miniature art – in its development and global recognition. This movement is strong, grounded in tradition and has left its mark on the international art scene. The credit goes to the modern practitioners and teachers of miniature art. The oldest and most influential art school of the country, the National College of Arts (NCA) in Lahore, has been a cornerstone in identifying and developing next generation of artists. The Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture (IVS) in Karachi and the Beaconhouse National University (BNU) in Lahore have also established world class programs in fine arts. These institutions offer highly sought after programs in miniature painting that attract the best and the brightest, channel their creativity and challenge their thinking in ways that equip them to push defined boundaries. They subvert traditional practices, innovate and deconstruct miniature paintings to reinvent and revive a movement that we all know as neo-miniature (contemporary miniature) style of painting. Zahoor ul Akhlaq, Salima Hashmi, Ustad Bashir Ahmed, Imran Qureshi, Muhammed Zeeshan and Sumaira Tazeen, among other established artists and faculty of these institutions have been instrumental in paving the road for the next generation of artists. Some stalwarts included in this Auction clearly standout. Shahzia Sikander, Saira Wasim, Nusra Latif Qureshi, Talha Rathore, Waseem Ahmed, Hasnat Mahmood and Khadim Ali.

I have chosen Zahoor’s Farman (Lot 3) as my favorite because of its importance in setting an early direction for the movement. It is composed in the confines of the borders of a traditional miniature painting, yet it is highly contemporary. It is a painting of significant importance given that it is referenced by two important scholars of Pakistani art – Dr. Akbar Naqvi and Roger Connah. The influence of Zahoor on the contemporary art of Pakistan is unquestionable.

Khadim Ali’s painting (Lot 55) incorporates the on-going conflict in Afghanistan and references the destruction of the Bamian Buddhas as well as the prosecution of local Hazaras by the Taliban.

Asif Ahmed’s (Lot 58) versatility and command over detail impresses me. Ayesha Durrani’s painting (Lot 67) is from a series that I have always admired. Her detailing and composition is excellent.

As they say – the devil is in the detail. To read more on my views on contemporary miniature art from Pakistan, click here.

Ali Adil Khan is a prolific Toronto based collector and expert of South Asian art and antiquities. Khan has organized numerous exhibitions of South Asian Art in North America including  “Image and Identity: Being Ethnic” and “Cosmic Energy and Tantric Enlightenment: Art of Youngo Verma” which have received widespread critical acclaim. He has contributed notable articles on South Asian art to leading dailies including The Dawn Online Edition and Newsline of Pakistan. He has also been invited to share his expertise at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Art Gallery of Mississauga and the 14th Asian Art Biennale in Dhaka, amongst others. Khan is a guest contributor for the Saffronart blog.

Guggenheim’s No Country: Contemporary Art from South and South East Asia: A Review

Manjari Sihare reviews the Guggenheim’s latest exhibition – No Country: Contemporary Art from South and South East Asia 

New York:  The exhibition, No Country: Contemporary Art from South and South East Asia represents the diversity of contemporary artistic practice from the region by way of a selection of work by twenty-two cross-generational artists. “No Country” implies borderlessness and that is the very essence of this show. In recent years, we have seen American museums such as the Rubin Museum of Art and the Asia Society host surveys of art from specific regions, whether it is modern and contemporary Indian art or Pakistani art, but this is probably the first time an American museum is showcasing a collective survey of South and South East Asian art . It facilitates a new way of seeing South and South East Asian art as an important part of and within the larger international contemporary art scene.

The curator of the show, June Yap, in her introductory note stresses on the choice of title adapted from a W.B. Yeats poem, a phrase that reads “No Country for Old Men” the show’s purpose, “to propose an understanding of regions that transcends physical and political boundaries”, and its outcome, “…it confirms that South Asia’s contemporary art is multifarious and highly evocative.”

Its raining Asian Art at the Guggenheim New York

Its raining Asian Art at the Guggenheim New York

Untitled 1, Rustam Series, 2011–12. Watercolor, gouache, and ink on paper, 27 1/2 × 19 5/8 inches (69.9 × 49.8 cm). Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York Guggenheim UBS MAP Purchase Fund, 2012 2012.143. © Khadim Ali

Khadim Ali, Untitled 1, Rustam Series, 2011–12. Watercolor, gouache, and ink on paper, 27 1/2 × 19 5/8 inches (69.9 × 49.8 cm). Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York Guggenheim UBS MAP Purchase Fund, 2012 2012.143. © Khadim Ali

It is noteworthy that the works in the show are part of a larger body of work acquired by the museum through funds made available by the Swiss bank, UBS, the main sponsor of the MAP initiative. The museum itself is representing a strong pan-Asian focus with its Manhattan flagship currently peppered with exhibitions of artists from the region. Of a total of six shows currently on view, four center around Asia – a retrospective of Gutai, Japan’s most influential avant-garde post-war collective, a solo show of New York based artist of Indian origin, Zarina Hashmi, an installation by Danh Vo, a Vietnamese artist living in Denmark, and the No Country exhibit. More so, the museum has recently announced the inauguration of another initiative to further the discourse on contemporary Chinese art.  The Guggenheim is joined by other museums in New York to focus on contemporary art from Asia, most noteworthy among which are of course the Rubin Museum and the Asia Society and more recently the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Met has roped in noted Pakistani contemporary artist, Imran Qureshi to create a site-specific work atop its Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Roof Garden (which has previously hosted works of international contemporary artists such as Tomas Saraceno). Such initiatives speak volumes about where the attention of the international art world is. Economics, of course has played a prominent role in defining this focus. But it is not limited to that. South and South East Asian Nation States have been challenging the western world’s monopoly in many disciplines, as is illustrated in the international art market in recent years.

What strikes most about the exhibition is the innovative selection of artists, more biennial regulars that art market favorites. It is a surprising selection but a very refreshing one. The twenty-two artists are from the length and breadth of the region including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Myanmar, Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam. The works largely address effects of colonization and globalization on national identity. Many of these nations have similar pasts, as a result of which, all the works speak to each other in a collective way.

Navin Rawanchaikul
Places of Rebirth, 2009
Acrylic on canvas, 220 x 720 cm
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Guggenheim UBS MAP Purchase Fund
© Navin Rawanchaikul and Navin Production Co. Ltd.
Photo: Courtesy the artist

Among the works that stood out for me were Navin Rawanchaikul’s 2009 canvas titled “Places of Rebirth” and Bani Abidi’s “The boy who got tired of posing”. Rawanchaikul is a Thai artist whose ancestral roots are in the Hindu-Punjabi communities of present day Pakistan. He holds a Japanese permanent resident status. In this iconic canvas rendered in quintessential Bollywood hand-painted hoarding style, the artist explores his personal identity. The canvas reads “A lonesome son of Hindu Punjabi diaspora and product of cross-cultural negotiation….From remote villages of Punjab to Northern Thailand…then a return after 60 years of wonder.” In the center, one sees the artist himself, with his Japanese wife and daughter riding the Tuk Tuk (ubiquitous Thai taxi and important symbol of the country’s tourism). The vehicle bears all three flags of the artist’s identity- India, Pakistan and Thailand. The Tuk-Tuk driver wears a cap “anywhere, anynavin” evocative of the impact of migration, colonization on individuals alike. This is a documentation of the artist’s first trip to Pakistan since his family moved out. The panoramic canvas is a humorous cinematic tale infused with symbolism from the history of India and Pakistan and the relationship of the two nations. You thus see pictorial anecdotes such as Khushwant’s Singh famous book on the partition of India, “Train to Pakistan”, a guard from the “lowering of the flags ceremony” at Wagah border, Pakistani truck art etc. At the center of most Rawanchaikul’s works is the notion of collaboration which we see here as well in the form of credits in the lower half of the canvas. The title points to the artist’s attempt to reconstruct the place where he is now as a site of rebirth.

Bani Abidi’s “The boy who got tired of posing” (see right)
Installation view: No Country: Contemporary Art for South and Southeast Asia, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, February 22–May 22, 2013
Photo: David Heald © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation

Bani Abidi’s “The boy who got tired of posing” is a three – part photo and video installation centered around an eighth century Arab war hero, Mohammad Bin Qasim, credited  to be the first colonial founder of Pakistan owing to his victorious invasion of Sind in 711 CE. The video has humorous undertones. Through three imagined narratives – a series of studio photographs of a young boy posing as Bin Qasim, a video clipping of a TV drama on in Qasim’s conquest of the Sindh telecast in 1993, and present day photographs of a young man believing himself to be Bin Qasim – Abidi presents her take on the ‘Arabization’ of religious and cultural identity in Pakistan. A Pakistani artist based in Karachi and Delhi, Abidi usually deals with the political and cultural tension between India and Pakistan in her work. In an interview with Nafas Art Magazine, Abidi explains, “by presenting exaggerated scenarios of a nation that takes refuge in a selected glorious past, I hope to engage viewers in questions about the need or the extent to which we limit our identities.”

Tayeba Begum Lipi Love Bed, 2012Stainless steel, 81.3 x 213.7 x 185.4 cmSolomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Guggenheim UBS MAP Purchase Fund© Tayeba Begum Lipi Photo: Kristopher McKay © Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

Tayeba Begum Lipi
Love Bed, 2012
Stainless steel, 81.3 x 213.7 x 185.4 cm
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Guggenheim UBS MAP Purchase Fund
© Tayeba Begum Lipi
Photo: Kristopher McKay © Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

Other interesting works included Bangladeshi artist, Tayeba Begum Lipi’s Love Bed, a stainless steel structure composed of razor blades and paper clips, exhibited last at the 2012 Dhaka Art Summit; Shilpa Gupta’s 1:14:9, a sculptural piece documenting the numerical data about the fenced border between India and Pakistan; and Filipino artist, Norberto Rolden’s diptych canvas showing an F-16 fighter jet flying over Afghanistan on one side, and a quote by former US president, William McKinley on the other. The work is a commentary on the politics around the colonization of Philippines.  Another notable inclusion is a group of three contemporary miniature paintings by Pakistani artist, Khadim Ali.

Norberto RoldanF-16, 2012Oil and acrylic on canvas, 182.9 x 365.8 cm overall, diptych Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Guggenheim UBS MAP Purchase Fund© Norberto Roldan Photo: Courtesy the artist and TAKSU, Singapore

Norberto Roldan
F-16, 2012
Oil and acrylic on canvas, 182.9 x 365.8 cm overall, diptych
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Guggenheim UBS MAP Purchase Fund
© Norberto Roldan
Photo: Courtesy the artist and TAKSU, Singapore

Complimenting the exhibition is a series of 5 videos/films which are on view on all days except Friday when the New Media Theatre plays host to a special educational film program. I missed this but will definitely go back for these works. Holland Cotter’s review in The New York Times also lists Amar Kanwar’s work as worth seeking out.

All the works in the show are juxtaposed with interpretative captions for the global audience which sometimes leave you asking for more, especially in the context of specific regional references, unknown to an American audience. The exhibition is scheduled to travel to Singapore and the Asia Society in Hong Kong wherein the Guggenheim team will collaborate with curators at these venues to adapt the display to the audiences there. It will be interesting to see how and whether the interpretive materials are transformed for the Asian venues, where the audience is most likely to be more familiar with the histories and references than their American counterparts.

The overall reception of the exhibit is best summarized in this reaction from an American woman viewing the show: “Thank God! No Al Qaeda!” The exhibition, though small, has moved beyond the cliches that have shadowed the region.

Miniatures: Survival of a Revival

Guest blogger, Ali Adil Khan shares his views on contemporary miniature paintings from Pakistan

Lot 21- Rehana Mangi, 3 Figures (Gadrang)
Art of Pakistan Auction (November 7-8, 2012)

Toronto: We are experiencing a modern revival of the miniature painting tradition that is unrivaled. This contemporary miniature art movement, emanating from a premier art institute of Pakistan, while being firmly grounded in tradition, has taken post-modern art by storm. It has a serious following locally and internationally and enjoys the support of curators, gallery owners, critics and collectors alike.

This movement is strong, moving rapidly, and is sure to leave its mark on the international art scene. The credit goes to the modern practitioners and teachers of miniature art. Early visionaries at the National College of Arts (NCA) in Lahore, Zahoor ul Akhlaq, followed by Salima Hashmi, Bashir Ahmed and Imran Qureshi have believed in the talents of their students and designed an ingenious curriculum and an exigent training program that continues to bring the best out of them.

Some of these industrious students have become leading proponents of contemporary miniature art around the world with a broad private and institutional following.

Lot 30 – Shazia Sikander, Let It Ride # 3, 1997
24 Hour Auction: Art of Pakistan (Nov. 7-8, 2012)

Some stalwarts clearly standout. Shahzia Sikander was the first to breakaway from the miniature tradition, and helped establish an art form that is now known and recognised as contemporary or neo-miniature painting. She remains the greatest of them all and there are only two ways to describe her art practice — brilliant and exquisite. She has now entered the mainstream of contemporary art internationally and is a recognised superstar.

Others, who followed her success, have held their values and traditional training central to their practice, not compromising them for quick buck. These trail blazers, who are now in the upper echelon of contemporary miniature art internationally include: Imran Qureshi, Tazeen Qayyum, Aisha Khalid, Talha Rathore, Nusra Latif Qureshi, Saira Wasim and Reeta Saeed. They can be referred to as the magnificent seven of NCA. Others who are fast catching up through their prolific practice, creative talents, and international exhibitions are Waseem Ahmed, Hasnat Mehmood, Khadim Ali, Muhammed Zeeshan and Sabeen Raja.

Lot 31 – Imran Qureshi, Moderate Enlightenment, 2007
24 Hour Auction: Art of Pakistan (Nov. 7-8, 2012)

While Imran Qureshi’s work on wasli exhibited in London, Hong Kong, and Oxford more recently continues to be very strong (as he can probably paint with his eyes closed — meant as a compliment), his site-specific wall paintings at the 1st Singapore Biennale in 2006 was most impressive. It was truly outstanding and definitely leading edge.

The contemporary miniature art market is cut throat to say the least. As a new breed of young artists jumps on the bandwagon, there are bound to be more failures than resounding successes. As experienced curators and discerning collectors closely examine and follow the emergence and development of this trend, they will critique the works of the artists. Any repetition, reproduction, stagnation, mediocrity will be severely penalised. It can be said with confidence that not all currently practicing contemporary miniature artists are good.

The ones that are good and with potential of becoming great, are the ones that are continuously experimenting and pushing the boundaries beyond the restrained borders of miniature paintings. For example, Tazeen Qayyum has consistently surpassed expectations of curators and collectors. In the late 1990s she incorporated borders made from collages of interesting newspaper cuttings and quickly moved away from figurative to contextual use of a motifs such as the veil and cockroach that enabled her to assert her socio-political views on the wasli. She experimented and employed the use of block printing, Xerox photo transfer, and digital techniques in her works of the early 2000s. In 2005, she pasted strands of her own long hair on the wasli. In 2006, Qayyum took wasli to a third dimension by adding labels and entomology pins to her work and changed the framing to box frames. Her depiction of the disgraceful human pyramid made forcibly at Abu Gharib Prison in Iraq using cockroaches with minute details was stunning to say the least.

Lot 45- Sumaira Tazeen, Moti Tanka (French Knot), 2008
Art of Pakistan Auction (November 7-8, 2012)

There are many more promising senior artists who can reach new heights through rigorous experimentation and an urge to push and re-invent the boundaries. They are Ambreen Butt, Sumaira Tazeen, Usman Saeed, Sherbano Qizilbash and Saira Sheikh. Curators and critics will watch them closely as they fulfil the much needed requirement to re-invent and progress.

The survival of the revival now solely rests in the capable hands of these practitioners and new comers into the field who must learn from the success of their predecessors and set high standards for themselves. They should not and must not expect to sell their works for exorbitant prices, as they first need to experiment, prove and establish their art practice. As collector of contemporary Pakistani art, London-based Kamran Anwar notes, “The Pakistani art market is clearly at an inflexion point. The contemporary miniature movement has led the way and holds a distinct place in the South Asian artistic landscape.

“The big challenge for these artists is to continue to innovate and create without falling into the temptation of doing the same thing again and again for short term commercial gains.”

Ali Adil Khan is a prolific Toronto based collector and expert of South Asian art and antiquities. Khan has organized numerous exhibitions of South Asian Art in North America including  “Image and Identity: Being Ethnic” and “Cosmic Energy and Tantric Enlightenment: Art of Youngo Verma” which have received widespread critical acclaim. He has contributed notable articles on South Asian art to leading dailies including The Dawn Online Edition and Newsline of Pakistan. He has also been invited to share his expertise at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Art Gallery of Mississauga and the 14th Asian Art Biennale in Dhaka, amongst others. Khan is a guest contributor for the Saffronart blog.

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