Islamic Art : Past and Present Coalesce

Shradha Ramesh shares a note on the current exhibition at Gallery L8, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
New York: “Echoes: Islamic art and Contemporary Artists” resonates an epoch of Islamic art and culture from across the globe, dating from 9th century to 21st century. The works on display are a visual diary of Islamic art through time and geography. A narration tracing from Nelson Atkins 17th century mosaic Persian arch, being juxtaposed with variegate Islamic inspired contemporary art. The Director of the Nelson-Atkins, Julián Zugazagoitia, during the press release said “This exhibition highlights some of the outstanding works in our collection that have not been seen in a long time,”
The geographic chronology of Islamic art and architecture ranges from west to east. The region of influence starts from North Africa and Spain on Western region; then the Middle East (Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Iraq, and the Arabian Peninsula), Anatolia and the Balkans (Turkey and Southeast Europe), Iran and Central Asia (including Afghanistan and the Central Asia Republics) and eventually the Indian subcontinent.

Bowl, Iran, late 12th–early 13th century. Fritware with opaque turquoise glaze and over-painted decoration. 35-31/4

Image Credit: The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Bowl, Iran, late 12th–early 13th century. Fritware with opaque turquoise glaze and over-painted decoration. 35-31/4

The Contemporary artists represented at the exhibition are primarily from Pakistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Though they are from these regions they work and live in different parts of the world, adding to the diverse Islamic impression. The artists represented are Shirin Neshat, Asheer Akram , and Hayv Kahraman and Shahzia Sikander live and work from United States. The others work from their respective native land Hamra Abbas (Pakistani), Ahmed Mater (Saudi Arabian), Nasser Al Salem(Saudi Arabian), Gohar Dashti (Iranian) , Ayesha Jatoi(Pakistani), Nasreen Mohamedi (Indian), Rashid Rana (Pakistani). Given their background and the vast medium on display one gets transported to a different visual space.

Shirin Neshat, Iranian, b. 1957. Stories of Martydom , 1994. Black and white RC print and ink

Image Credit: Eye Burfi
Shirin Neshat, Iranian, b. 1957. Stories of Martydom , 1994. Black and white RC print and ink

The common visual ground, upon which the exhibit traverses are the geometric or vegetative design with intricate details and patterns of Arabic calligraphy, rendered in rich colors and forms in an anomalous vista.  Kimberly Masteller, the first Jeanne McCray Beals Curator of South and Southeast Asian Art, explains the concept behind the exhibit “The overarching theme here is dialogue,…We use the installation and the artists’ interviews to invoke conversations between the works and their cultures, and also between past and present.”

The 28 featured art works include ceramics, textiles, miniature paintings, decorative brass, photographs and video art. The magnum opus is a Pakistani Cargo Truck Initiative at the entrance made by artist Asheer Akram, from Kansas City.

 Asheer Akram "Pakistani Cargo Truck Initiative"

Image Credit: The Kansas City Star Magazine
Asheer Akram’s “Pakistani Cargo Truck Initiative”

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art began was started in late 1800 and early 1900 by two ardent art lovers, William Rockhill Nelson and Mary Atkins as two separate art museum. Both the museum merged to form the Nelson-Atkins. “Echoes” is joint venture by The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the Kansas City Artists Coalition, and the Kansas City Public Library. The exhibit runs until March 30, 2014 at the museum’s Gallery L8.

To read more and other events Click Here

‘Move on Asia’ – Video Art From Asia 2002 – 2012

Emily Jane Cushing suggests the ‘Move on Asia’ exhibition of Asian video art from 2002 to 2012.

London: The ZKM | Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe, Germany opened on February 9th their exhibition which shows the development of the video art genre and the increasing importance of Asia in contemporary art; the exhibition runs until August 4th 2013.

Meiro Koizumi: „My Voice Would Reach You“ (2009). Video still; Image Credit:

Meiro Koizumi: „My Voice Would Reach You“ (2009). Video still; Image Credit:

The increased interest in Asian arts resulted in the 2007 exhibition at the ZKM | Karlsruhe  curated by Wonil Rhee entitled “Thermocline of Art. New Asian Waves”. This exhibition was hugely successful in attracting world-wide attention to the Asiatic ‘moving image’; despite being only six years prior and fifty years since the emergence of video art, the need for a follow on exhibition showing the huge development in this genre is needed.

It is noted that as an art genre video art has continually been associated with the West despite much of the technology originating in Asia. This exhibition proves that over the last couple of decades the culture of video art has gained greater independence from Western models by showing at biennale’s and art exhibitions across the world.

The vast exhibition, containing over 140 works, is made up of works from video artists originating from thirteen Asiatic countries including China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Pakistan, the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam. In addition to the showing of established artists, recent works by new artists are also shown.

The exhibition displays a wide range of Indian art; Indian artists showing are Vishal K. Dar, Chitra Ganesh, Shilpa Gupta, Tushar Joag, Shakuntala Kulkarni, Nalini Malani, Pushpamala N., Sharmila Samant, Tejal Shah, Valay Shende, Shine Shivan and Thukral & Tagra.

“40+4. Art is "Not Enough! Not Enough" Image Credit,

“40+4. Art is Not Enough! Not Enough” Image Credit,

An interactive installation entitled “Global Fire” by the Paris-based artist Du Zhenjun may also be viewed in connection with the exhibition. “Global Fire” is a large inflatable dome in which the visitors may ignite the flags of 200 countries with lighters on heat censors. Also on show in the ZKM_PanoramaLab is the interactive video installation “40+4. Art is Not Enough! Not Enough” in which forty Shanghai based artists are interviewed about their works and asked to question their art in relation to the environment and the social impact of their artistic production. This installation resulting from the collaboration between the curator Davide Quadrio, the filmmaker Lothar Spree as well as the video artist Xiaowen Zhu is truly insightful and fascinating.

“Global Fire” by the Paris-based artist Du Zhenjun, Image Credit;

“Global Fire” by the Paris-based artist Du Zhenjun, Image Credit;

This exhibition runs until 4th August 2013; view the website for more details on this exciting exhibition.

Also, for those wishing to read more about Indian video art, I have found a really interesting article from Tehelka Magazine with Pakistani artist Bani Abidi discussing Indian Video art and it’s increased popularity here; it’s a great read!

‘Here and Now’ at Lahore Art Gallery

Shradha Ramesh on a new group-exhibition at Lahore Art Gallery in Pakistan

Here and Now at Lahore Art Gallery

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.

To read more on the exhibition, click here

Pakistani Artists at Pulse Art Fair 2013 in New York

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, Pulse Art Fair 2013

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,

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.

Read more on the Pulse Art Fair website.

Be/Longing: Art in Washington DC

Guest blogger Sita Reddy explores the diasporic art of the South Asian Women’s Creative Collective

Washington DC: This is not the first time Washington DC has seen provocative contemporary art by women artists of the South Asian diaspora. Exhibitions of the work of Rajkamal Kahlon (Provisions Library, 2005) and Simryn Gill (Freer-Sackler Galleries, 2007), to take examples, have spoken powerfully to issues of postcolonial identity and transnational migration, to histories of passage and geographies of place. But this is certainly the first major collective exhibition of this scale to grace the nation’s capital, and the combined scope, quality, and range of conceptual feminist art – shown together in ways that create new dialogues – fundamentally alters both the landscape and the aesthetics of diasporic art and immigrant activism.

The South Asian Women’s Creative Collective (SAWCC, pronounced ‘saucy’), is a New York-based group that, on March 1 2013, opened Be/Longing, its Washington DC debut at the Smith Center’s Joan Hisaoka Gallery.  For over fifteen years, the collective – co-founded by Jaishri Abichandani in 1997 as a creative space for feminists who make art – has nurtured and catalyzed the work of more than 100 artists, filmmakers, writers, many of whom were represented in the beautifully curated 2012 retrospective Her Stories at the Queens Museum of Art.



Be/Longing offers a small (but tasty) slice of the group’s work, featuring ten artists from three South Asian countries in the subcontinental peninsula, Bangladesh, Pakistan and India, and one artist from Iran. Curated by Brooke Seidelmann and Monica Jahan Bose, whose installation, performance photographs, and mixed-media drawings bookend the gallery space, the 30-odd artworks address multiple meanings of ‘longing’ for diasporic South Asian women. Intelligently juxtaposed photographic prints, paintings, mixed media works, sculptural pieces and installations engage, resist, defy and ultimately escape conventional stereotypes of sexuality and conservative ideologies of immigrant assimilation. If Be/Longing the exhibition succeeds, it is in suggesting that ‘belonging’ itself – as artists, citizens, activists, migrants, tourists, wives, partners, lovers, daughters, mothers, laborers – is no simple matter for South Asian diasporic women.  Far from being monolithic or seamless, the process is often fraught with conflict, whether the ties are local or global, national or regional, civic or familial, erotic or economic, religious or commercial, of tourism or of trade.

It is this sense of struggle, of feminist struggle, that quickly emerges as a running leitmotiv in Be/Longing . For this is a decidedly feminist exhibition, in keeping with SAWCC’s deep activist origins, about diasporic bodies and diasporic female voices. It is about bodies that speak and bodies that are silenced; dismembered bodies and invisible bodies; bodies that are objectified by the media and bodies that are surveilled by the state; dead bodies and liminal bodies that spring to life from unexpected places or cracks and margins of society.  And indeed, the installations framing the gallery space perfectly echo these themes. Marcy Chevali’s odd, amorphous tiny grey animal bodies made from lint (each with a pink spot for its heart) are strung above Amina Ahmed’s large charcoal-on-paper musings on weeds, roots, hair, that seem to grow out of the everyday, the ordinary, the mundane (and what could be more mundane or ubiquitous than dryer lint collected from friends and family?). Monica Jahan Bose’s chilling Agunmukha – the singed sari and stones hinting at victims of gendered violence and dowry deaths – speaks diagonally across the gallery to Shelly Bahl’s installation of wax votive candles in the shape of an invisible body, marked in ways that recall both a sarcophagus/reliquary and a Keith Haring-like chalk outline in a forensic crime scene. Are these missing female bodies memorials, shrines, forgotten relics, mute witnesses to unspeakable crimes, markers of sad demographic realities, objects of worshipful veneration – or all of the above?

Elsewhere in the exhibition one finds fragmented body parts and fragmented languages that draw on and subvert media.  Ruby Chishti’s heart-breaking sculptural work of bulbous, fleshy, headless bodies (made from stockings) sits uneasily alongside Jaishri Abichandani’s disembodied ‘fighting’ heads on kitschy, pink, boxing gloves.  In the next room, text and image collide in an iconographic dialogue worthy of a graphic novel: Abichandani’s powerful Allah hu Akbar (God is great) – leather whips encased in decorative Swarovski crystals – hangs overhead and across from Shelly Bahl’s foot-level Leila O. Leila – an evocative ink on vinyl piece, a paneled storyboard on transcultural women and the underbelly of mass tourism using the universal language of airport signage.  Samira Abbassy’s rich oil paintings, drawings, and exquisitely fabricated (and mischievous) dolls seem to have little in common with Nida Abidi’s pastel-colored mixed media papier maches and grainy video, or with Chitra Ganesh’s beautiful but disturbing photographs of twisted bodies, except for the sense of a peepshow in reverse, of women defying the media ‘gaze’ to look back at us – many defiantly  — through handmade objects, animations, and hidden narratives. All is not what it seems on the surface; the textures of diaspora come apart on close examination, fabric tearing at the seams. Chevali’s performance piece Unraveling at the exhibition opening offers a case in point. The sweater she wore was slowly unraveled and transferred, skein by skein with knitting needles, onto a functionless tube. Now displayed in the exhibition next to each other, sweater and tube, both rendered mute as ‘useful’ objects, turn the semiotics of form and function on its head.

Dangling over the entire space – indeed, the heart of the gallery – and picking up on all these themes is Sa’dia Rehman’s extraordinary installation Divine Guidance, an octopus-like chandelier of young girls’ legs clad in white tights, chopped at their waists, hung upside down by the tips of their little black maryjanes, tulle skirts falling open – near-naked, forlorn, vulnerable, exposed. Rehman’s artist statement describes addressing erased memories from her Pakistani American past to give new meaning and voice to oppressive taboos and silences that were hidden even as they were aggressively enforced. The piece is a haunting reminder of play interrupted, work left unfinished, stories that remain untold.

The artworks do not all sing the same song, or even the same political mantra from the activist’s picket line. But if there’s a shared refrain in this exhibition, perhaps it is best captured by that old adage on equality: what’s sauce for the goose may be saucier for the gander! Feminist art exhibitions from women of the South Asian diaspora – indeed from all women of color — have never seemed more timely or more urgent.

Closing events on April 13 include:

3:30-4:30 pm. Monica Jahan Bose’s performance/installation “Indelible Scent”

4:30-5.30 pm. Artists’ talk with special guest, Masum Momaya, curator of the Smithsonian’s HomeSpun project

5:30-7 pm. Closing reception


Art from the South Asian Women’s Creative Collective, March 1-April 13, 2013

The Joan Hisaoka Healing Arts Gallery, Smith Center for Healing and the Arts, 1632 U Street NW, Washington DC, 20009

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Sita Reddy is a researcher, writer, and curator based in Washington DC. She is currently Research Associate at the Smithsonian’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, where she is working on her book on the iconography of yogi-fakirs to accompany the Sackler Gallery’s upcoming art exhibition Yoga: The Art of Transformation.  

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