Sadequain at AICON, New York

Josheen Oberoi visits AICON Gallery’s expansive Sadequain exhibition

New York: It’s been a quiet month in the New York art world. With half the community decamping to Art Basel and the rest distracted by the blessed warm weather (we had a tough winter here!); interesting shows have been relatively thin on the ground. Not for South Asian art, thankfully. AICON Gallery is showing a mini retrospective of the Pakistani artist Syed Sadequain (1930-1987) and I was excited to see it not only for the quality of art but also the rarity of having access to such a body of work.

Occupying the entire expansive space of AICON’s Lower East Side gallery, this exhibit shows the gamut of Sadequain’s oeuvre. One of Pakistan’s most celebrated modernist artists, Sadequain was born in 1930 in Amroha, east of Delhi, in a family of calligraphers. He subsequently moved to Pakistan after his graduation from Agra University in 1948. He shot to fame at the young age of 31, when his work won recognition at the 1961 Paris Biennale.

A self-taught artist, he is most commonly identified with the development of a uniquely idiomatic calligraphic aesthetic. However, his visual language is in fact one of the most variegated and complex of the South Asian modernists working post 1947. He simultaneously worked through a variety of calligraphic, narrative, abstract registers, with artistic influences that ranged from multiple mediums; poetry, Western and South Asian historical artistic traditions. His compatriot, collaborator and famed poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz stated about his work, “In spite of his considerable pre-occupation with the solution of technical formal problems, Sadequain has never been purely a formal painter. Recordist, abstractionist, social critic, emotional visionary, within a few short years, Sadequain has sped from one role or compulsion to another with equal impetuosity.”

Three standing figures

Three Standing Figures, 1966, Oil on canvas, 72 x 48 inches Image courtesy: AICON Gallery, New York

Sadequain’s engagement with language was seminal to his work and this is visible in this exhibition. Comprising twenty seven paintings and three drawings, the show is dominated by a collection of paintings from the 1960s, when Sadequain lived and worked in Paris. Titled The Lost Exhibition, this set of eight paintings are dancing figures of calligraphy; lyrical despite their scale. These works are considered examples of what the artist called “Calligraphic Cubism”. Employing the scratched surface technique on the background, the texture produces volume and three- dimensionality. Seemingly caught in action, the elongated movement of the script along the vertical axis make these works appear monumental in viewing. Sadequain described himself as a figurative painter and the dramatic execution of the Arabic Kufic script in these works, the ensuing conversations that are taking place on the canvas, did bring home that idea to me. These are the strongest works in the exhibit and definitely worth a dekko.

Man with Dagger, Oil on canvas, 54 x 30 inches Image courtesy: AICON Gallery

Man with Dagger, Oil on canvas, 54 x 30 inches
Image courtesy: AICON Gallery

Some of Sadequain’s formally figurative works are also part of this exhibition and these underline the remarkable range of his visual vernacular. Line, form, perspective – I was hard won to find a singly unifying element among these paintings. One of the more striking of these was Man With Dagger, showing a man holding a dagger in one hand and a head that resembles his own in the other, accompanied by a smaller figure of a woman holding a leaf. These muscular renderings, so different from The Lost Exhibition, are echoed in another set of calligraphic paintings in the exhibition, Untitled (Abstract Formation I and II). Interestingly, the image of a severed head is repeated in one of the works on paper, Untitled, Headless Self-Portrait. It clearly shows the headless artist in a studio, with a work of calligraphy in the background.

Untitled, Abstract Formation 1, c. 1960, Oil on canvas, 25.5 x 16 inches Image courtesy: AICON Gallery, New York

Untitled, Abstract Formation 1, c. 1960, Oil on canvas, 25.5 x 16 inches
Image courtesy: AICON Gallery, New York

Untitled, Headless Self Portrait, 1967, Ink on Paper, 28 x 20 inches Image courtesy: AICON Gallery, New York

Untitled, Headless Self Portrait, 1967, Ink on Paper, 28 x 20 inches
Image courtesy: AICON Gallery, New York














In 1962, an edition of the Parisian newspaper Le Figaro rightly noted, “Sadequain adds up the impression of space, density, volume and the reality of matter, which transforms an abstract thought into a material fact in plastic.” He shifted the paradigms of calligraphy, especially in his realization of its abstracted and stylized forms. This post cannot effectively capture the entire spectrum of his languages and so I would strongly recommend a trip down to the gallery to see them yourself if you’re in New York.

You can learn more about Sadequain at the Sadequain Foundation website (co sponsor of this exhibition) and from this article by art historian Iftikhar Dadi.

Heritage Reinvented: Inaugural exhibition

Ambika Rajgopal of Saffronart announces the inaugural exhibition- Heritage Reinvented at Tryon St. Gallery, London.

London: Five artists from different parts of the world unite to present Heritage Reinvented at the Tryon St. Gallery in London. In this exhibition, while drawing from their own individual socio-cultural peculiarity, they contest, challenge and transform the imagery and concepts normally associated with their own culture.

The Dark Cloud series, 2013, Kazim Ali. Image Credit:  © Tryon Street Gallery and Ali Kazim

The Dark Cloud series, 2013, Kazim Ali. Image Credit: © Tryon St. Gallery and Ali Kazim

The five artists are the Pakistani Ali Kazim, the New Zealander Brett Graham, the English Tom Hunter, the Ecuadorian Oscar Santillan and the Korean Meekyoung Shin. Though their standpoints are varied, their desire to amalgamate their socio-cultural past in order to speak to the present remains a constant in all their works. The artists attempt to create a new personal vocabulary through which they examine and revisit their heritage and often their own identity.

Ali Kazim originally trained as a miniature painter, but started his career as a circus-hoarding painter in the small town of Pattoki, Pakistan. His paintings, principally of lone masculine figures, have a multilayered tactility on account of many layers of watercolour pigments on textured paper, which imparts his work with a low relief quality.

Untitled (self portrait) series, 2013, Ali Kazim. Image Credit:  © Tryon St. Gallery and Ali Kazim

Untitled (self portrait) series, 2013, Ali Kazim. Image Credit: © Tryon St. Gallery and Ali Kazim

On display is a new series of work, where Kazim uses the framework of the South Asian visual culture, but he relativizes it. He is influenced by the miniature style techniques, which in the Mughal period were used to symbolize official rank, wealth and status. However, he strips away the colorful splendor of the miniatures to reveal a quiet monochromatic introspection, and thus transforms the long-standing miniature tradition of painting. Similarly Kazim draws from the Bengal school’s wash technique as can be seen in his self-portrait, where he uses over 20 washes of pigment to achieve the desired effect. His portrait is meditative, melancholic and remains firmly rooted in its past, while examining the present.

In his previous works he used tracing paper in order to subdue the colours further, thus giving his portraits more psychological significance. Regarding this, Kazim clarifies, “I feel that the thematic concerns of the work are strengthened greatly through a careful selection and use of materials. They help me explore the human body in a more expressive way.”

Te Hokioi, 2008, Brett Graham. Image Credit: © Tryon St. Gallery and Brett Graham

Te Hokioi, 2008, Brett Graham. Image Credit: © Tryon St. Gallery and Brett Graham

In a similar manner, the other artists confront the stereotypes normally associated with their culture. Brett Graham is of European and Maori descent and his work depicts the amalgamation between Western modernism and indigenous spirituality. He shows the dichotomy of his dual heritage by juxtaposing modern instruments of warfare with traditional Maori designs. These colonial power symbols were considered to be spiritual symbols by the indigenous Maori. Graham’s work explores the effects of European colonialism on the indigenous Oceanic population.

After the Dragon, 2000. Tom Hunter. Image Credit:  © Tryon Street Gallery and Tom Hunter

After the Dragon, 2000. Tom Hunter. Image Credit: © Tryon St. Gallery and Tom Hunter

Tom Hunter’s photographs reposition the composition and symbolism of European and American masterworks. In his work After the Dragon, Hunter draws stylistically and symbolically from Pre Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones’s painting Pan and Psyche (1872-1874). Part of his Life and Death in Hackney series, Hunter contemporizes Psyche and Pan, making them subcultural inhabitants set in the landscape of post-industrial urban decay. By plugging the legacy of the past into the context of the present, his work creates a dialogic exchange between the two binaries.

The show is on view from 3rd October to the 22nd November 2013.

Untitled, 2005, Ali Kazim. Image Credit:

Saffronart has previously auctioned Ali Kazim’s work in the November 2012 Art of Pakistan Auction.

For more information about the exhibition, please 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.

Imran Qureshi at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Manjari Sihare shares some snippets of Imran Qureshi’s work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 

New York: The Imran Qureshi Roof Garden Commission at the Metropolitan Museum, New York is now on view.  Entitled The Roof Garden Commission: Imran Qureshi, the project represents the artist’s emotional response to violence occurring across the globe in recent decades and his earnest hope for regeneration and lasting peace in the aftermath of man-made disasters. Here are some snippets from the special Frieze Art Fair VIP Preview held on Friday, May 10th. Watch this space for more on this spectacular exhibit. For all New Yorkers and those visiting for the Frieze Fair,  this is a must-see!

All images are courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Heritage of Pakistan Publication Series

Shradha Ramesh of Saffronart discovers the documentation of the diverse cultural heritage of Pakistan.

New York: In any country, art and architecture reflect the historic milieu of culture and heritage. Among the emerging Asian and Middle Eastern markets, Pakistan has gained international recognition. The Pakistani art market has been doing well both nationally and internationally. According to Fabian Bocart, founder of the Brussels-based Tutela Capital, “…in the case of Middle Eastern/Islamic contemporary art (as I call it), where it’s not the market that’s emerging, in fact, but our discovery of it. Great art is great art.”

Though Pakistani art was misconstrued to have born the brunt of societal hostility to free expression, in recent times, the country’s contemporary art and literature has demonstrated that it has broken clear of that taboo. Classic examples of this liberation are the artworks by internationally acclaimed artists like Mohammed Ali Talpur, Rashid Rana, Imran Qureshi and others. A panel discussion on Pakistani contemporary art, held at Saffronart in London last year, explored the cultural and socio-political influences that acted on artists from the region.

The evolution of a more liberal stylistic representation is clearly highlighted by the publication of the book Churches of Pakistan by photographer Syed Javaid Kazi (President of the Photographic Society of Pakistan) and Dr. Safdar Ali Shah (Director of Academics at the National University of Sciences and Technology, Pakistan). The book is a photographic compilation of well preserved churches in Pakistan. The architecture of churches ranged from the oldest European influenced gothic styles to Sufi influenced marble structures.

In continuation of their religious architectural venture, the duo, along with publisher Mansur Rashid also lunched The Sikh Heritage of Pakistana coffee table book that documents the well maintained gurdwaras that are run by the Evacuee Trust Property Board of the Government of Pakistan and the Darbar Sahib, a key architectural structure in the history of the Sikhs, where Guru Nanak spent his last 18 years. It houses both the Guru’s mazaar and samadhi. The books also incorporates Allama Iqbal’s poetic tribute to Guru Nanak, and is believed to have accomplished a dual mission -“that Islam accepts the right of the people to follow whatever religion they wish to and that Pakistan is not about terrorism only.”

Hindu Heritage of Pakistan and Sacred Companions at the Mystical Abodes of Pakistan and India are other publications in the series, where Syed Javaid A. Kazi has collaborated with Dr Safdar Ali Shah and Dr. Jürgen Wasim Frembgen (Senior Curator and Head of the Islamic Collection at the Munich State Museum of Ethnology, and Professor for the History of Religion and Culture of Islam at the Institute of Near and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Munich) respectively. The books encompass a photographic collection of various Hindu temples that are in existence in Pakistan.

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