New York: Sarnath Banerjee has delved into several disciplines in his career. Although he started with an academic career in the natural sciences and biochemistry, he has now dedicated his work to the arts, specifically creating graphic novels that illustrate a variety of cultural topics. Banerjee combines words and fanciful visuals in his work to portray storytelling and artistic expression. His works cover various cultural topics and controversies such as politics, sports, literature and art. Banerjee is no stranger to the Indian political environment that he often discusses in his work. Prior to this year, Banerjee and his wife, Pakistani artist Bani Abidi were living in New Delhi. The political ramifications between India and Pakistan directly interfered with her artistic career, specifically travel restrictions. This, along with a fellowship for Abidi, motivated their move to Berlin, Germany, the scene of his most recent work, “Enchanted Geography”.
“Enchanted Geography” was directly inspired by Banerjee’s experience acclimating to this new cultural environment. The work documents the mundane and casual elements of this environment just as carefully as the exciting and colorful aspects. In doing this Banerjee hopes to push aside the inventive stereotypes that Berlin is known for. In “Enchanted Geography” he has revived a protagonist from his past works, Brighu. By utilizing this character as the vessel for exploring Berlin, Banerjee saw the city through completely new eyes. It was ripe with imaginative narrative for him to discover and explore. Many of the artist’s true experiences in Berlin are directly integrated into the story. Encounters that Banerjee had with real individuals in Berlin, including a Jewish German composer. The artist comments on his usage of equal parts imagination and life experiences: “In my works fact and fiction collide in strange ways. That can only happen in your head”.
Overall this examination of real life occurrences shows through in his strong development of unusual, yet life-like characters. His past project “Tyranny of Cataloguing” documented the trials and tribulations of an author stuck in a maze of books searching for his own work and later dying in the endless stacks of books. His most recent exhibition in London, “Gallery of Losers” examines the often overlooked mediocre, anti-hero archetype. Through his illustrations and words alike, Banerjee has the ability to transport the viewer into an undisclosed, but not unimaginable world. He balances the normal and realistic, without losing site of the artistic and engaging element of the work.
Sarnath Banerjee’s “Enchanted Geography” will unfold over six months every Sunday in The Hindu, one of India’s largest newspaper publications.
I cannot trust quotations. They always lie, because essentially they are paratruths. Speak with your own words, clumsy, unconvincing and unintelligible, but yours. And don’t forget that every fable is a potential truth.
New York: The MAGASIN Centre National d’ Art Contemporain in Grenoble, France will be presenting a multifaceted exhibition both online and in house organized by The Ecole du MAGASIN. “I lie to them”-Based on a True Story will be presented June 9th through September 1st, 2013. This educational curatorial collective has created an exhibition that depicts the relationship between lies and truths in storytelling and the chronicling of histories. The exhibition invites artists to manipulate and distort the contrast between reality and fabrication when representing images of traumatic historical experiences such as war.
This reshaped representation creates a dialogue between viewers and the artists about what is real and what has been reimagined in this particular illustration.
The Speech Writer, Bani Abidi, 2011, Artist’s Book. Image Credit: Courtesy of the Artist and Raking Leaves
In observing these works, viewers are asked to determine if they are illuminating the truth or if they are an additional repurposing of the true history.
Works by artists such as Riikka Kuoppala and Bani Abidi, will be displayed in a variety of mediums including photography and film, utilizing actual historical news coverage reconfigured in a new way. In viewing this work, visitors are asked to determine for themselves what is true and what is a lie. This identifies a common thread in the repurposing of stories in the mainstream media.
Under a burning City, Riikka Kuoppala, 2010, 17 minutes, Short film projection (screened in loop) production still. Image Credit: Paula Lehto
The curators through this exhibition question whether to authentically understand a traumatic event we have to have actively experienced it first hand.
The exhibition covers events such as World War II, the conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina and terrorism in a three-pronged approach: the detachment between the emotional gravity of the event and the narration, the reoccurring thematic elements of these histories, and the importance of reassessing these stories as a learning tool.
Incidental Gestures, Agnes Geoffray, 2011. Image Credit: Courtesy of the Artist
By displaying these works artists also address the emotional aftermath of these harrowing events and how it determines the mentality of a society long after the actual event. Because The Ecole du MAGASIN has curatorial participants from various countries such as Italy, India and Russia, this exhibition truly takes a global approach to the manipulation of unofficial histories in our contemporary world.
“I Lie To Them”-Based on a True Story is sure to be a memorable and intriguing exhibition for visitors of the MAGASIN.
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.”
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.
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” 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.”
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.
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.
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.