“Nalini Malani: Transgressions” at Asia Society Museum

New York: The Asia Society Museum in New York is currently showing their latest contemporary exhibition, “Nalini Malani: Transgressions”. Malani received her technical training in painting at the Sir Jamsetjee Jeejebhoy School of Art in Mumbai and throughout her career has focused on a number of controversial topics such as feminism, race, gender and global politics. This was especially powerful in the 1980’s when feminist topics were less prominent in art on the Indian subcontinent. In her process the artist is inspired by myths and allegories from a variety of cultural backgrounds including Hindu and Greek. “Transgressions” is no exception as it brings forward a strong narrative depicting globalization and transnational current events focusing specifically on the powerful western influence in postcolonial India.

Transgressions II by Nalini Malani. Source: http://www.e-flux.com/announcements/nalini-malani-2/

Transgressions II by Nalini Malani
Source: http://www.e-flux.com/announcements/nalini-malani-2/

 

I was fortunate enough to slip into the Asia Society thirty minutes before closing, the ideal time to experience the central installation of the exhibition: “Transgressions II”. This enchanting piece, created in 2009, is part of the Asia Society Museum’s collection and depicts cultural negotiations in India. The piece consists of video projections combined with shadows utilizing three large transparent cylinders. “Transgressions” is both playful and visually haunting with the multifaceted use of a variety of mediums and sound. Each aspect of the work is an independent artistic expression that when combined, brings forward a dramatic multisensory experience for the viewer. Malani’s paintings on the transparent cylinders are in homage to the Chinese reverse glass painting of the 18th century and are aesthetically engaging all on their own. Viewers can walk freely through the projections and examine these dynamic paintings individually. The only other additions to the exhibition aside from the large installation are a selection of books by the artist depicting the drawing and painting technique in full. This addition invites Malani’s audience into her artistic process. Holistically, the work creates an engaging contrast between histories of seasoned storytelling and modern technology.

“Transgressions II” by Nalini Malani Source: Asia Society

“Transgressions II” by Nalini Malani
Source: Asia Society

 

As a viewer, I felt fortunate to experience the work completely alone and be ensconced in the ever evolving and shifting visuals of animals, characters and designs. Accompanying the moving colors and imagery was a poem written and read by the artist. Both the painting and poem touched on the artist’s central topics of colonialism and world politics. However, the visuals rarely depicted the poem in a literal sense, creating a dizzying, dreamlike quality. “Transgressions II” is an all-consuming and enthralling installation that allows Malani to fully absorb her audience in her multiple levels of creative expression and storytelling. This exhibition is a uniquely beautiful success for both the artist and the Asia Society Museum. While in New York this summer be sure to take in “Nalini Malani: Transgressions”. The exhibition will be up through August 3rd 2014.

 

Iran Modern at Asia Society Museum

Ambika Rajgopal of Saffronart shares a note on the exhibition of Iranian modern art at the Asia Society Museum, New York.

Untitled, 1973, Abolghassem Saidi. Image Credit: http://asiasociety.org/new-york/exhibitions/iran-modern#!artworks

Untitled, 1973, Abolghassem Saidi. Image Credit: http://asiasociety.org/new-york/exhibitions/iran-modern#!artworks

London: Don’t forget to catch the first major international exhibition of Iranian modern art, from the 1950s to the 1970s at the Asia Society Museum in New York. The Asia Society Museum has been committed to closing the cultural chasm that exists between Asia and America. By promoting and showcasing a wide range of traditional and contemporary exhibitions of Asian and Asian American art, the museum has given Asian art a wider platform for exposition.

The focus of the exhibition is to highlight the thriving glory of Iran’s flourishing art scene before the Islamic Revolution of the 1979s. The exhibition features 100 works by 26 artists that encapsulate the international presence that these Iranian artists had with the rest of the art world. The collection of this exhibition have been loaned from leading artistic institutions like JPMorgan Chase Art Collection, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, and Tate, London.

Crossroads (Earthwork), 1975, Marcos Grigorian. Image Credit: http://asiasociety.org/new-york/exhibitions/iran-modern#!artworks

Crossroads (Earthwork), 1975, Marcos Grigorian. Image Credit: http://asiasociety.org/new-york/exhibitions/iran-modern#!artworks

Curated by scholars Fereshteh Daftari and Layla S. Diba, the thematic exposition of the paintings, sculptures and photographs, unravels the provenance and subsequent evolution of Iranian modernism. Embedded within Iran’s political and cultural climate, the exhibition highlights the global interaction that Iranian art from this period enjoyed.

Untitled, 1977, Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, Image Credit: http://asiasociety.org/new-york/exhibitions/iran-modern#!artworks

Untitled, 1977, Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, Image Credit: http://asiasociety.org/new-york/exhibitions/iran-modern#!artworks

 A threefold division explores the artistic genres of Saqqakhaneh, abstraction and calligraphy. Saqqakhaneh was the name of the artistic movement coined by the art critic Karim Emami in 1963. The movement amalgamated popular symbols of Shi’a Muslim culture within modern art. Each of the three sections features a monographic highlight of selected seminal artists, who played an influential role in defining Iranian Modernism.

Ledge (1), 1970, Siah Armajani. Image Credit: http://asiasociety.org/new-york/exhibitions/iran-modern#!artworks

Ledge (1), 1970, Siah Armajani. Image Credit: http://asiasociety.org/new-york/exhibitions/iran-modern#!artworks

The Saqqakhaneh movement, with its direct roots in the heart and soul of Iranian lineage, arose as a retaliation of the mimicry of Western values. Instead the movement assimilated Iranian traditions with Western modernity to form a unique pastiche, which was both distinctive and relevant on a global scale, a ‘spiritual Pop Art’ of sorts. In addition to the artworks, the exhibition features plenty of archival material to substantiate the history, politics and cultural environment of the pre- Iranian revolution.

One of the proponents of the Saqqakhaneh movement whose works can be seen in the exhibition is Parviz Tanavoli. Tanavoli created a new language for sculpture in Iran, by combining pre Islamic art motifs and modern day objects. A recurrent feature in his work is the word heech, meaning ‘nothing’. The letterform of the word- nasta’liq makes an appearance in a few of his works. The word stands as a metaphor for his fluctuating feelings towards the past and the sense of discontentment with the inadequacy of the present.

Heech (Nothing), 1972, Parviz Tanavoli. Image Credit: http://asiasociety.org/new-york/exhibitions/iran-modern#!artworks

Heech (Nothing), 1972, Parviz Tanavoli. Image Credit: http://asiasociety.org/new-york/exhibitions/iran-modern#!artworks

Some of the many other artists in this exhibition include: Siah Armajani, Charles Hossein Zenderoudi, Nicky Nodjoumi, Faramarz Pilaram and Behjat Sadr.

The exhibition will be on view from September 6th 2013 to January 5th 2014.

For more information, please click here.

Chitra Ganesh’s Residency at Bose Pacia, New York

Kanika Pruthi of Saffronart discusses Chitra Ganesh’s fantastical works in light of her ongoing artist residency at Bose Pacia in New York City

Secrets, Chitra Ganesh, 2007

Secrets, Chitra Ganesh, 2007. Image Credit: http://www.chitraganesh.com/dc6.html

NEW YORK: Brooklyn based artist of Indian origin, Chitra Ganesh is the current artist- in residence at Bose Pacia in New York City as part of their Transparent Studio initiative, showing her works from June 18th to July 16th, 2013.

The Transparent Studio is an artist studio program founded by Bose Pacia where the selected artists are provided with a studio space in the main gallery. The intention of turning the transitional gallery space into a temporary artist studio is to enable an atmosphere of engagement and conversation around the creative process, allowing an opportunity to engage with the artist is the given set up.

Chitra Ganesh received her BA in Comparative Literature and Art Semiotics in 1996 and her MFA from Columbia University in 2002. Ganesh’s work has been exhibited widely at venues including PS 1/MOMA, Brooklyn Museum, the Asia Society, and the Andy Warhol Museum, Fondazione Sandretto in Italy, Nature Morte Berlin, ZKM in Germany, and the Gothenburg Kunsthalle.

Ganesh’s art and practice draws equally from her Indian roots as from her engagement with contemporary discourses regarding identity, the feminine, history and such. An adept multimedia artist, her works range from text based canvases, illustrations, prints, installations and collaborative projects. Her visual oeuvre serves a concoction of mythology, folklore, sci-fi, Indian bollywood, graffiti- drawn from her international experiences- a heady mix nonetheless a stimulating portion for a discerning connoisseurs’ palette .

The female protagonist is central to Ganesh’s work, reminiscent of the male super heroes of the comic book traditions. The ‘heroine’ often takes on the garb of the superhero- challenging and questioning societal norms and beliefs. The artist’s narrative is fuelled by her efforts to challenge the established canons- of history, literature, art, culture. The super ‘heroine’ of Ganesh’s works gives voice to the excluded narratives which are often relegated to the periphery of the ‘popular’ and ‘accepted’.

A consistent element of Ganesh’s visuality is her adaptation of the comic book layout in her works. An important point of reference is the Indian Amar Chitra Katha comic series that the artist encountered early in her life. They present religious and cultural narratives based on Hindu mythology and Indian history. She combines these with her interest in Greek mythology, western fairy tales and fantasy literature. She skillfully adapts the popular comic book format to her large scale works. Her use of the comic script as a trope to infuse the otherwise playful visual with an intent and relevant narrative is one of the many high points of her practice.

The humor and lightness of the visual elements balance the weighty discourses she handles in her practice. The blown-up and larger than life scale of her works also references the multiple points of entry and focus. She uses the busy and sometimes overwhelming imagery to give material form to an abstract concept- which through this process becomes accessible to multiple viewers. The use of text in her works is an inviting point of reference which opens the eye to the fantastical landscape at view. The words interject her visual narrative, and the two elements together take the viewer on a journey that titillates multiple senses.

Bose Pacia will be hosting an open studio on 11th July 2013 where the artist will be present.

The Art of Imran Qureshi

Guest blogger, Sayantan Mukhopadhyay reflects on Imran Qureshi’s Moderate Enlightenment series of paintings

Imran Qureshi
Moderate Enlightenment
2007
Gouache on Wasli
8.5 x 6.5 in
From: Saffronart’s 24 Hour Auction: Art of Pakistan, Lot 31
Exhibited and published: Hanging Fire: Contemporary Art from Pakistan, 2009-10

New York: As contemporary art hurtles further into its characteristic world of postmodern diffusion – where national categories give way to dissolving borders and trans-regional connections – potent markers of heritage serve as reminders of mooring and place.

Imran Qureshi has stated the importance belonging plays in his art and his Moderate Enlightenment series reveals a keen interest in re-pitching a distinctly South Asian artistic vernacular, paying homage to tradition and the importance of history in visual storytelling. The miniature – an art form that has been devoted exclusively to portraiture and the human form – is an encounter with an individual. In its historical use, important imperial or divine figureheads would be richly painted and ornamented with gold leaf, allowing inquisitive eyes a point of access into the court or the heavens.

Qureshi paints intimate portraits of religious men and finds a quiet anxiety with contemporary Pakistan therein: seemingly mundane images of men turn into hidden symbols of social unrest. These post-9/11 treatises search to understand how perceptions of zealotry can be influenced by fashion and posture. In his use of the miniature, he highlights the issue as a South Asian one, fixed at once to geography and culture, but also one that is fiercely contemporary. Here, Orientalist fantasies of Pakistan cede to modern concerns and pressing international affairs.

Qureshi’s dexterous mastery over the miniature is a testament to his need to find a global voice laden with legacy. In a painstaking process that requires deft use of fine brushes, miniatures must be held close to the artist’s eyes to ensure accurate detailing. The artist’s inestimable skill earned him a place in the Asia Society’s iconic exhibit of contemporary Pakistani art, “Hanging Fire,” in 2009/10. He later went on to win the Sharjah Art Prize in 2011, establishing him as one of Pakistan’s most important stars today. Refusing to be titled reductively as a ‘Miniature Painter,’ he has shown himself to be a versatile artist, his large-scale installation pieces proving him comfortable with media either big or small. An artist to watch and to follow, Qureshi lets us catch glimpses of a Pakistan through visions grounded there but equally aware of the world at large.

Sayantan Mukhopadhyay is an Associate at Aicon Gallery, New York’s leading gallery dedicated to South Asian contemporary art. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Art History and Comparative Literature from Williams College and has spent time with the Indian & Southeast Asian art department at Sotheby’s New York.

Hanging Fire: Contemporary Art from Pakistan

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.

Mahreen Zuberi
Hysteria
2008
Gouache on Wasli
10.5 x 15.5 in
From: Saffronart’s 24 Hour auction: Art of Pakistan, Lot 68

Imran Qureshi
Moderate Enlightenment
2007
Gouache on Wasli
8.5 x 6.5 in
From: Saffronart’s 24 Hour Auction: Art of Pakistan, Lot 31
Exhibited and published: Hanging Fire: Contemporary Art from Pakistan, Asia Society, New York, 2009-10

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.

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