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Posts Tagged ‘Bani Abidi’

Bani Abidi on Indian video art, a medium on the rise – interview Tehelka Magazine

Posted by artradar on August 18, 2009


CONTEMPORARY INDIAN VIDEO ART

Who are the emerging Indian video artists and the collectors of this up-and-coming genre? How can collectors display the work and should they be concerned with authenticity? Where can video art be seen and bought? Read on to find out more:

Video art: it is new

Video has the capacity to move a viewer, express emotion, and provoke thought. It is no surprise, then, that contemporary artists who have grown up exposed to moving images and storytelling films are utilizing video to express their artworks, and the medium has been elevated to a fine art that is being embraced by museums and collectors alike.

However, video art has only existed for about the past 50 years, or since the equipment became easily available to creatives for use. It surprisingly took awhile to gain momentum in India, a country with a rich film-making history, and has only gained popularity in the past few years.

But it is here to stay

Now, however, video is a mainstay in the contemporary Indian art scene with galleries exclusively devoted to the medium such as the Apeejay Gallery which has solely shown video and film art for the past 5 years. Video art is a necessary part of the best well-rounded contemporary art collections too and can be found in important collections such as the Lekha and Anupam Poddar Collection with the Devi Art Foundation.

But, the question remains, what exactly is video art, and how is it different from ordinary film?

So what is it exactly?

Bani Abidi, an active Pakistani video artist with pieces on display at museums including the MoMA in New York and the Devi Art Foundation Delhi, sheds some light on the distinction of video art in an interview with Tehelka Magazine.

Mangoes, 1999, by Bani Abidi. Video, Single Channel, 3:24 sec. Two expatriate Pakistani and Indian women sit and eat mangoes together and reminisce about their childhood. An otherwise touching encounter turns sour when they start comparing the range of mangoes grown in either country, a comment on the heightened sense of nostalgia and nationalism that exists in the Indian and Pakistani Diaspora. Both the women are played by the artist, stressing the idea of a shared history.

Mangoes, 1999, by Bani Abidi. Video, Single Channel, 3:24 sec. "Two expatriate Pakistani and Indian women sit and eat mangoes together and reminisce about their childhood. An otherwise touching encounter turns sour when they start comparing the range of mangoes grown in either country, a comment on the heightened sense of nostalgia and nationalism that exists in the Indian and Pakistani Diaspora. Both the women are played by the artist, stressing the idea of a shared history."

“…A lot of artists work with abstract images. But then many don’t. The conventional idea of a plot, with a beginning, middle and end is only one way of storytelling. So if one wants to engage fully with the history and potential of the moving image, whether it is a feature film, a documentary, experimental cinema or an art work, the attachment to plot needs to loosen.

Defining video art is as difficult as trying to define painting as this or that type of image. Video art as a term makes more sense in historic terms. In the late 1960s, artists in Europe, Japan and North America had a grand time with the arrival of the first camcorder, the Sony Portapak…

Over the years, video art’s practitioners, influences and mediums have changed. The video medium is no longer of essence. Some artists use 16mm film and elaborate production methods to make short films, others fix their cameras on tripods and shoot performances in their studio. Some use broadcast quality video equipment to shoot an experimental documentary on the streets and yet another lot might just use archival television footage as material”

Shan Pipe Band Learns the Star Spangled Banner, 2004, by Bani Adibi. Video, Double Channel, 7:30 sec. " Video, Double Channel, 7:30 sec  Shan Pipe Band Learns the Star Spangled Banner, 2004  In November of 2003, the artist commissioned a brass pipe band in Lahore to learn how to play the American National Anthem, a piece that was not a part of their existing repertoire. Over an afternoon's sitting of listening to a recording of the music that had been provided them, and after much fumbling and practicing they were able to perform a version of it. The video is a recording of this process as well as a glimpse of their interaction and physical surroundings.  This piece is a metaphor for all forms of clumsy and forced cultural and political acquiescence that various individuals and governments have had to display towards the US in the past 3 years."

Shan Pipe Band Learns the Star Spangled Banner, 2004, by Bani Adibi. Video, Double Channel, 7:30 sec. "In November of 2003, the artist commissioned a brass pipe band in Lahore to learn how to play the American National Anthem, a piece that was not a part of their existing repertoire. Over an afternoon's sitting of listening to a recording of the music that had been provided them, and after much fumbling and practicing they were able to perform a version of it. The video is a recording of this process as well as a glimpse of their interaction and physical surroundings. This piece is a metaphor for all forms of clumsy and forced cultural and political acquiescence that various individuals and governments have had to display towards the US in the past 3 years."

When asked where to go to experience video art in India, Abidi replied:

Big galleries in Indian metros frequently feature video art. Gallery Espace in New Delhi hosted a year-long program called Video Wednesdays, where guest curators were invited to present their selection of videos once a week. It culminated in a discussion and a final show which took place last week. At the India Art Summit in Delhi (August 19 to 21 2009) you can watch over 90 videos.

Regarding notable Indian video artists, Abidi commented:

Nalini Malini and Ranbir Kaleka are two of the most senior practitioners of this medium and both incorporate their experience of painting and art history in their projects. A filmmaker like Amar Kanwar comes from a documentary film tradition. Younger artists like Shilpa Gupta, Sonia Khurana and Kiran Subbaiah move between the roles of activist, performer and cinematographer.

'Bird', by Sonia Khurana. Performance video, 1999. Duration, 2 minutes. Videotape, black and white, silent. Performed, shot, edited and conceptualized by Sonia Khurana.

'Bird', by Sonia Khurana. Performance video, 1999. Duration, 2 minutes. Videotape, black and white, silent. Performed, shot, edited and conceptualized by Sonia Khurana.

DISPLAY

An important distinction of video art lies within its display, which is a deliberate and important element of the artwork, and distinguishes it as more of an installation art piece than a conventional film.  Some artists provide buyers with highly specific drawn instruction of their display design, while others only require works to be played in a loop on a wall-mounted flat screen. Custom plans for the display of video art in a buyer’s home can get extremely creative, and include projection on suspended screens or other unexpected surfaces.

BUYERS

The all important question among the commercially minded arts scene: Does it sell?!? Like all commercially available art, contemporary video artists are keen to find collectors. Bhavna Kakar is a curatur-turned-gallerist who is embarking on a project promoting Indian video artists, and during an interview with the Times of India he remarks, “Five years ago, there were no takers but now works are selling.”

Auction houses are also promoting Indian video art, with Sotheby’s selling Sonia Khurana’s video work Bird: Retake in the 2007 Southeast Asian art auction. Indian video artists have found support in both private collectors and museums, and an emerging group of contemporary art collectors, including the notable private collectors Anurag Khanna and Swapan Seth,  have collections that are mostly comprised of video artworks.

AUTHENTICITY

Video art may have a viable base of enthusiastic collectors, but a common problem now with the buying and selling of video is the issue of unauthorized replication that devalues the legitimate limited edition works produced by an artist. This problem has been addressed with authenticity certificates, which are official documents required for the buying and reselling of pieces. Artists are also including watermarks in their videos, which can indicate authenticity to curators.

Curators and gallerists believe that video art is a natural progression for the generation that grew up in front of the TV and surfing the internet [Times of India.] In addition, convenient platforms like Youtube  are making the display of video artworks to vast audiences very easy and cheap. The nature of video is also very tactile, as it can be easily edited and changed to create something new. Considering all these traits, more talented, tech-savvy youthful artists are sure to emerge. Arts-watchers should know, video art is officially a trend.

Read full interview with Tehelka Magazine here.

-contributed by Erin Wooters

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Posted in Anupam Poddar, Collectors, India, Indian, Interviews, Museum collectors, Nalini Malini, New Delhi, Shilpa Gupta, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Asia Society brings historic show of Pakistani art to US Sep 2009

Posted by artradar on August 4, 2009


Faiza Butt. Get out of my dreams II, 2008. Ink on polyester film. H. 22 x W. 28 1/2 in. (55.9 x 72.4 cm). Private collection, London.

Faiza Butt. Get out of my dreams II, 2008. Ink on polyester film. H. 22 x W. 28 1/2 in. (55.9 x 72.4 cm). Private collection, London.

PAKISTANI ART SHOW

Along with the Japan Society and the ICP, the Asia Society based in New York is developing a reputation for curating the most influential books and shows to document emerging art coming out of Asia today.

Its upcoming show Hanging Fire promises to be no exception. Introducing Pakistani contemporary art to a wider Western audience, this taste-making show highlights the major artists to watch and trends to follow.

Find below more information from the press release:

Despite Pakistan’s reputation in the West as a politically and socially volatile nation, it has been fostering a vibrant yet low-profile contemporary art scene for the past two decades.

The Asia Society Museum in New York City is proud to present this work in the first major exhibition of contemporary Pakistani art in the United States.


Hanging Fire: Contemporary Art From Pakistan will explore the seeming contradiction of Pakistan’s flourishing art scene within the struggling nation.

Hanging Fire is curated for the Asia Society by the distinguished Salima Hashmi, one of Pakistan’s most important writers and curators, and the daughter of Pakistan’s most renowned poet, Faiz Ahmed Faiz.

The exhibition will showcase 55 works by 15 artists, comprising installation art, video, photography, painting and sculpture. A number of the works have never been exhibited, including a large-scale site-specific painting by Imran Qureshi.

On the inspiration for the show, Asia Society Museum Director,  Dr. Melissa Chiu, comments:

“The idea for Hanging Fire came from a recognition that over the past decade, a new generation of artists in Pakistan have created compelling works that have largely gone unnoticed outside their country. The exhibition includes artists for whom the highly charged socio-political context in which they live and work is critical to understanding their art.”

The exhibition’s title, Hanging Fire, refers to an idiom that means “to delay decision.” In the context of the exhibition, the title invites the audience to delay judgment, particularly about contemporary society and artistic expression in Pakistan. It also alludes to the modern economic, social, and political tensions––both local and global––from which the featured artists find their creative inspiration.

A full color, 160-page publication by Yale University Press will accompany the exhibition. On exhibition 10 September through 3 January, 2010.

A list of artists in the exhibition follows:

  • Hamra Abbas, b. 1976, Kuwait; lives and works in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, and Boston
  • Bani Abidi, b. 1971, Karachi; lives and works in Karachi
  • Zahoor ul Akhlaq, b. 1941, Delhi; died 1999, Lahore
  • Faiza Butt, born 1973, Lahore; lives and works in London
  • Ayaz Jokhio , b. 1978, Mehrabpur, Sindh; lives and works in Lahore
  • Naiza Khan, b. 1968, Bahawalpur, Punjab; lives and works in Karachi
  • Arif Mahmood, b. 1960, Karachi; lives and works in Karachi
  • Huma Mulji, b. 1970, Karachi; lives and works in Lahore
  • Asma Mundrawala, b. 1965, Karachi; lives and works in Karachi
  • Imran Qureshi, b. 1972, Hyderabad, Sindh; lives and works in Lahore
  • Rashid Rana, b. 1968, Lahore; lives and works in Lahore
  • Ali Raza, b. 1969, Lahore; lives and works in Boone, North Carolina, and Lahore
  • Anwar Saeed, b. 1955, Lahore; lives and works in Lahore
  • Adeela Suleman, b. 1970, Karachi; lives and works in Karachi
  • Mahreen Zuberi, b. 1981, Karachi; lives and works in Karachi

Related Links:

Imran Qureshi (born 1972). Moderate Enlightenment, 2007. Gouache on wasli. H. 9 x W. 7 in. (22.9 x 17.8 cm). Aicon Gallery, New York.

Imran Qureshi (born 1972). Moderate Enlightenment, 2007. Gouache on wasli. H. 9 x W. 7 in. (22.9 x 17.8 cm). Aicon Gallery, New York.

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The posts below provide more introductory material to Pakistani contemporary art useful for comparison with the Asia Society’s take on the art scene in Pakistan.

Contributed by Erin Wooters

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Posted in Art spaces, Events, Islamic art, Miniatures, Museum shows, Museums, Nationalism, New York, Pakistan, Pakistani, Rashid Rana, USA | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Middle Eastern, Indian, Pakistani artists show seminal works in 3-city exhibition: Lines of Control

Posted by artradar on February 23, 2009


Anita Dube, River Disease, 1999

Anita Dube, River Disease, 1999

MIDDLE EAST SOUTH ASIA ART

Two influential art enterprises, Green Cardamom and Middle Eastern gallery The Third Line co-present Lines of Control, a fascinating series of exhibitions in Dubai, Karachi and London comprising both seminal and new works by 18 artists. Arguably this is a show of some of the most respected artists from the Middle East and South Asia working in contemporary art today.

The series which was initiated by the  Green Cardamom in 2007, the 60th anniversary of the partition of the subcontinent, explores both the chaos and the productive capacity of partitions through the practice of visual art.

The Third Line, Dubai: 15th January – 8th February 2009
VM Gallery, Karachi: 28th January – 28th February 2009
Green Cardamom, London: 18th February – 27th March 2009

Theme of the show: Partition

These last two years – 2007 and 2008 – mark the 60th anniversaries of two groups of nations that were ‘made’ through partitions: firstly, the independence of India and the creation of Pakistan (itself partitioned 24 years later to form another new nation – Bangladesh), and secondly, the creation of Israel from British-controlled Palestine. Both partitions have cast long shadows in world history and had an unprecedented impact. The 1947 fracture of India led to over 15 million people being displaced, and an estimated one million deaths over a few brutal weeks. The aftermath of Israel’s creation remains arguably the leading cause for global geo-political instability.

Art can be a means to explore areas of life where words fail us, and partitions and their aftermath are ripe for such exploration. Lines of Control is not only about commemorating the past, but about current lives in partitioned times: South Ossetia, Baghdad’s Green Zone/Red Zone, Israel’s ‘security barrier’, Kosovo, the Kurdish population in Iraq and Turkey, Cyprus, Northern Ireland, Pakistan’s tribal areas, India’s minority provinces – are all testimony to the seductive simplicity of drawing lines as a substitute for learning how to live with each other. Living these lines is a messy, bloody business but also offers a productive space where new nations, identities, languages and relationships are forged.

Interview with curator Hammad Nasser

Art Radar: How have the artists differed in the way they approached the subject?

Identity, nation, memory, history, borders


HN: The subject is vast – covering notions of identity and nation, as well as memory, history and borders.

In researching the topic and the works of artists that have addressed it, we were keen to include works that have become seminal, as well as encourage the production of new works.

Rashid Rana, All Eyes Skyward at the Annual Parade, 2004

Rashid Rana, All Eyes Skyward at the Annual Parade, 2004

Seminal works: Pakistani artist Rashid Rana

So among the 18 artists who participated in Lines of Control, nearly half showed existing works, in many cases borrowed from private collections. Rashid Rana’s large scale composite image, All Eyes Skywards at the Annual Parade, of a crowd waving Pakistani flags as it admires a fly-past is composed of thousands of stills from Bollywood films. A poignant commentary on Pakistani identity, despite best efforts, being defined by the other.

New works: Naeem Mohaiemen


Among the new works created I will pick out a wonderful set of digital prints and an accompanying stack of stamps bearing the portrait of Kazi Nazrul Islam, the Bengali poet who resisted Partition before losing his ability to speak.

In these companion works, the Dhaka and New York based-artist Naeem Mohaiemen excavates history to show how the governments of India, Bangladesh and Pakistan all tried to project their own political fantasies on the mute figure of the revered poet. By isolating Kazi’s eyes in public photographs, Mohaiemen argues that his eyes register their silent protest at these political machinations.

Nalini Malani, Iftikhar Dadi, Bloodlines 2008

Nalini Malani, Iftikhar Dadi, Bloodlines 2008

Collaborative work, embroidery: Indian artist Nalini Malani and Pakistani Iftikhar Dadi

Bloodlines, a collaboration between the Indian artist Nalini Malani and the Pakistani Iftikhar Dadi, is both old and new. The work was conceived by the artists, and made by embroiderers in Karachi initially in 1997. It is perhaps the first collaborative work between artists from both countries. For Lines of Control it has been realized again by Mr. Abdul Khaliq and his team in Karachi.

The individual panels, with their flat panels of coloured sequins, mimic the mapping process that defines borders, supposedly with detached objectivity. However, the red border lines, drawn by the Radcliffe commission as part of the de-colonization process, run across this field of gold as arbitrary lines of blood. The artists describe the dense golden sequins as “enacting an allegory of the individual, affirming its uniqueness and their diversity, yet also suggesting that their coming together illuminates and enriches the entire region without limit”.
AR: Have there been any unusual, unexpected or interesting responses from viewers, critics?

The exhibitions have been very well received in Dubai and Karachi, by audiences who have lived through the Partition, by students who know of it only through history books and by critics.

Perhaps the most touching reaction was by an audience member with tears in her eyes as she listened to and observed the Home project by Sophie Ernst: video clips of artists talking to their parents and grandparents about the homes they left behind at the time of Partition, projected on to small scale architectural models of the places described.

AR: Why were these 3 cities chosen? Are different responses expected in the different cities?

HN: Lines of Control is an ongoing project, and after the initial focus on India’s partition, we start looking at Palestine and other partitions in the Middle East. Thus it was important that we involve multiple geographies and engage people around histories that are not their own but have many similarities. With South Ossettia, Kosovo, Baghdad, Cyprus — even Belgium for goodness sake — all in the news in recent months; we have to learn how to live in peace with our partitioned selves.

AR: Do you think travelling art shows can play a part in healing partitions, rifts?

HN: I am not sure I believe that art can change the world. But I do believe that art has a role to play in helping us understand phenomenon where words fail us. Artists, by reaching us outside language, allow us to find new avenues of enquiry and reflection. Healing comes with understanding, and art can certainly help us understand in a way that is not didactic.

AR: What is different about a travelling art show compared with a static one confined to one country?


HN: Its a hell of a lot harder work! But less flippantly, putting together exhibitions is also a learning process. And by working in this way where we have worked with three locations, three very different spaces and three different contexts, it gives us a chance to develop a much more nuanced understanding of what we are dealing with. Speaking personally, I am learning more about each work and some of the notions they explore through every interaction I have with them. Hopefully we will be able to use this in taking the project forward.

Artists

The exhibitions include works by Bani Abidi, Roohi Ahmed, Farida Batool, Rana Begum, Iftikhar Dadi and Nalini Malini, Anita Dube, Sophie Ernst, Ahsan Jamal, Amar Kanwar, Tariq Khalil, Ahmed Ali Manganhar, Naeem Mohaiemen, Raqs Media Collective, Rashid Rana, Seher Shah, Abdullah Syed, Hajra Waheed and Muhammad Zeeshan.

Reviews and writing

Chinar Tree Jan 2009 – Strong informative review of the Dubai show, well worth reading. Concludes that this edition of the on-going show ‘lacks coherence to some extent’. However commends and discusses in detail artwork from the following artists : Anita Dube, Naeem Mohaiemen, Rashid Rana. Interesting quotes:

On comparison of Indian partition with the Holocaust: “Hammad feels that despite this being the case, little thought or attention is paid to the scars or after-effects left by the division of a country and its people. “If you compare the Holocaust in Europe to the partition of India, one has almost spawned a commemorative industry whereas there’s almost no trace of India’s partition. Why are there no memorials or museums commemorating this?” “

On future plans for the exhibition: “Next year we’ll look at partitions in the Middle-East, Palestine, Lebanon and possibly the Kurdish question in Iraq and Turkey, if we find the art. The longer-term plan is to look at this as a global issue, to include international artists and take this to museums around the world.” Hammad Nasser, curator

Anita Dube, River Disease 1999, detail

Anita Dube, River Disease 1999, detail

Art Asia Pacific: A useful background article by Hammad Nasser curator. Discusses the meaning of the exhibition title Lines of Control: a reference to ‘the messy legacy of colonisation’ and to the lenticular print of Farida Batool entitled Line of Control (see article for image).

On partition art’s growth in last decade: “In Partition’s immediate aftermath, most Indian artists were unable, or more probably unwilling, to address its smouldering embers. And in Pakistan, the idea of critically examining Partition opened up the uncomfortable prospect of national existential crisis. Since Partition’s 50th anniversary a decade ago, however, a rich seam of artistic production engaging the topic has emerged.”

Artists’ works discussed in depth: Shilpa Gupta’s Aar Baar, Farida Batool’s Line of Control, Anita Dube’s River/Disease

Farida Batool Line of Control 2004 lenticular print

Farida Batool Line of Control 2004 lenticular print

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Related categories: Political art, Identity art, Handicraft art, Middle Eastern art,  Indian art, Israeli art, Pakistani art

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Posted in Activist, Anita Dube, Collaborative, Collage, Curators, Gallery shows, Handicraft art, Identity art, Indian, Interviews, Middle Eastern, Migration, Nationalism, New Media, Overviews, Pakistani, Photography, Political, Professionals, Rashid Rana, Religious art, Shilpa Gupta, Social, Thread, War | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Emerging Pakistani artists getting noticed in India and abroad

Posted by artradar on July 11, 2008


CONTEMPORARY ART PAKISTAN  Rashid Rana occupies a unique position among Pakistan’s contemporary artists and has been a hit internationally. Rashid Rana is a star, whether it’s in Lahore, Mumbai or Hong Kong. The Pakistani artist wowed the crowds who flocked to his Mumbai show in November 2007. And he received an equally rapturous response last month at HK 08, the inaugural Hong Kong Art Fair.

The overwhelming response to Rana’s eye-catching work didn’t come as the slightest surprise to two Mumbai art galleries. Chatterjee & Lal and Chemould Prescott Road jointly organised the show of Rana’s digital photo-montages at HK 08 and they were absolutely certain that it would receive critical acclaim. “It was all sold out,” says Mortimer Chatterjee, partner, Chatterjee & Lal.

 

Artist names attracting attention

Rana occupies a unique position among contemporary Pakistani artists and he has made a huge name for himself internationally. But he isn’t the only artist from across the border who’s attracting the attention of connoisseurs in India. In the last two months, three shows by Pakistani artists like Bani Abidi, Ali Kazim and Muhmmad Zeeshan have been held across Bangalore, Delhi and Mumbai. And many more are planned in the coming 12 months.

 

Collector Anupam Poddar buying Pakistani art with plans for show

Or take a look at art collector Anupam Poddar, who has built a sizeable collection of contemporary Pakistani art. His Devi Art Foundation is doing the groundwork for a show in March 2009, which will be curated by Rana.

 

Indian interest in Pakistani art

“Interest in Pakistani art is increasing in India,” says Peter Nagy of Delhi’s Nature Morte, who held the first solo show of Rana’s work in India and then helped take his work overseas.So, is Pakistani art the next Big Thing in India? Many art experts believe the interest in Pakistani art is only natural. Says Chatterjee: “There are so many lines of inter-connection between the concerns of Pakistani artists and the lives of normal Indians that often the subject matter is entirely relevant to an Indian audience.”There’s also, as Rana says, “a kind of mutual obsession on both sides of the border, fostered by shared histories, the trauma of Partition and the years of hostility and inaccessibility.”

 

Pakistani art more visible in auctions and fairs

Certainly Pakistani art, like Indian art, is suddenly becoming more visible at international art fairs and auctions. For instance, works by Talha Rathore and Nusra Ali Qureishi sold at auctions held by Christie’s and Saffronart recently.

 

Bani Abidi – female video artist

For Bangalore-based GALLERYSKE‘s founder, Sunitha Kumar Emmart who had been following Pakistani video artist Bani Abidi’s work, then, art fairs provided an opportunity to view the work of the Pakistani artist at first-hand. That led to a show by Abidi recently. “Regardless of nationality or gender, we have been interested in Bani’s work primarily for the strength of her practice and the clarity of her artistic vocabulary,” says Emmart. Abidi’s themes went down well with Bangalore art lovers. In the video piece, Reserved, she shows a city coming to a halt for a political bigwig. It has images of schoolchildren waiting to wave crumpled paper flags at a motorcade that never arrives – it was a theme, obviously, that Indian viewers could relate to.

“I’m interested in talking about a more complex identity formation along linguistic and cultural lines, rather than religious ones,” says Abidi, who was surprised by the response to her show. “This is the first time I’ve had a solo show in India. So, it was a first for me that this kind of attention was given to my work here and I value that,” she adds.

 

Ali Kazim – watercolours

Meanwhile, Ali Kazim’s mastery over watercolours drew a huge response at Delhi’s Gallery Espace. The show was held in collaboration with Green Cardamom, a UK-based institution that promotes South Asian artists.

 

Mohammad Zeeshan – contemporary miniatures

And in Mumbai, art lovers got to see Muhammad Zeeshan’s contemporary miniatures in his show, What Lies Beneath, organised by Delhi’s Anant Art Gallery.

“There’s a certain understanding regarding art that I find in Indians. And it feels good to be a foreigner only 40 minutes across the border and be identified with my imagery as an international artist,” says Zeeshan, who has shown in Delhi, Agra and Calcutta since 2005. Miniature artist Muhammad Zeeshan wants his images to tease the imagination as in Let’s Make A Great Pattern I and Untitled II.

 

2005 show in Mumbai was turning point

Pakistani artists are addressing issues like gender, politics and ethnicity in a language that’s contemporary and international, says art critic Quddus Mirza.

India’s interest in Pakistani art has been building gradually. The canvas was prepared by curators like Pooja Sood in India and Salima Hashmi in Pakistan, and institutions like Khoj International Artists’ Association and VASL Artists Residency in Delhi and Karachi, respectively. Khoj and VASL have held artists’ residencies since the late 1980s. Early shows like “Mappings: Shared Histories” curated by Sood too helped.

But till 2004, when Nature Morte held Rana’s first show here, public interest was low. Recalls Nagy: “There was good response from the art community but not from collectors.” That has changed now. One catalyst was the large show, Beyond Borders: Art from Pakistan, at Mumbai’s National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) in 2005. It was co-curated by Pakistani artist and art critic Quddus Mirza and NGMA’s then director Saryu Doshi.

“I didn’t realise it would create such a stir. It was the first time that we were recognised as contemporary to India in art,” says Mirza.

 

Pakistan’s art described as contemporary, international, cutting-edge

Since then, the momentum has picked up, spurred by galleries and artists. Says Muhammad Umer Butt, artist and creative director, Grey Noise, a new virtual art gallery based in Pakistan: “Rashid [Rana] has played an instrumental role in introducing us Pakistanis to India.”

Mirza believes that apart from the “newness” factor, the similarities and differences between the two nations have attracted Indians. Shows like Beyond Borders also revealed that Pakistani artists aren’t “making Islamic calligraphy or veiled women”. “We’re painting nudes, addressing issues of gender, politics and ethnicity in a language that is contemporary and international. So perhaps that shattering of pre-conceived ideas was one source for the Indian attraction,” he says.

But it isn’t just cultural affinity that’s attracting Indian art lovers to the work from across the border. The fact is that cutting-edge work is coming out of Pakistan. Says Saffronart co-director Dinesh Vazirani: “Wherever collectors are looking at art from outside, they’re looking for innovation.” Hammad Nasar, co-founder, Green Cardamom, believes this is partly because, “for most of its 60-year existence, Pakistan has remained a cauldron of political and social upheaval.” He adds: “This has proved to be a fertile ground for artists to mine.”

Two broad categories: new media and contemporary miniatures

Certainly, it has thrown up a diverse palette. The Pakistani art scene can be broadly divided into two: there are artists working in new media, and there are those that have given a contemporary twist to the miniature tradition.

Indians, says gallerists, are interested in both types of works. The big draw, of course, is Rana with his multi-layered images and messages. Take his Red Carpetphoto-montage series – Red Carpet-1 incidentally sold for a record $623,400 at Sotheby’s recent Spring Sale of Contemporary Art. At first glance, the work appears to be a large Persian carpet. But when you look closer, there’s a series of tiny photographs of scenes from a slaughterhouse. The work reflects, in a sense, Rana’s formal and conceptual concerns. He says in his artist’s statement, “In today’s environment of uncertainty, we cannot have the privilege of a single world-view. Every image or idea already contains its opposite within itself.”

 

Other artists names

Other contemporary Pakistani artists are also being noticed around the world. There are prominent names like Naiza Khan, sculptor-photographer Huma Mulji, Hamra Abbas, Faiza Butt, Mohammad Ali Talpur, and sculptor Khalil Chishtee, whose recent work includes sculptures with garbage bags. Mulji’s Arabian Delight, for instance, was reportedly picked up by British collector Charles Saatchi for $8,000 at the recent Dubai Art Fair.

At a different level, there are the neo-miniaturists – Indian collectors who are familiar with miniatures are quite enthusiastic about this type of work. Miniature art is a strong discipline at Lahore’s National College of Art (NCA), and it has turned out stars like Zahoor-ul-Akhlaq and Shahzia Sikander, who made a name for herself internationally in the ’90s.Now there are newer miniaturists like Imran Qureshi, Aisha Khalid, Nusra Latif Qureshi, Hasnat Mehmood, Talha Rathore and Zeeshan. “These artists have taken the South Asian tradition of miniature to new heights, and then moved beyond the page to invent a new visual language, rooted in tradition but of the here and now,” says Nasar.

Take Zeeshan, who began painting porn cinema posters before studying miniature work at NCA, and who combines the beauty of miniature with edgier themes of gender, dominance and violence. Zeeshan says he enjoys “teasing” the viewer. “And I think my images tease a lot. The oddity of the composition leads the viewer to dialogue and maybe, just for a second, ask, ‘What is this?” he says.

 

Pakistan’s art educational system strong…

Pakistan’s rich artistic output owes largely to its strong art educational system, especially since, unlike India, most practicing artists there also teach. “This has honed the critical edge of art here,” adds Rana.

 

But market infrastructure underdeveloped

For Pakistani artists too, India is an attractive destination, especially since the gallery infrastructure in Pakistan is still very underdeveloped. Grey Noise’s Butt says, apart from a few spaces like Rohtas 2 in Lahore: “We have showrooms but not galleries unfortunately.” Abidi too says, “The art market (in Pakistan) is almost non-existent and the small one that does exist is very conservative.” That’s why Butt felt compelled to found Grey Noise. “We’re the first virtual gallery to represent cutting-edge artists based in Pakistan,” he says.

 

International buyers showing interest

Already, Butt is “overwhelmed” by the response from India on his site. “I get a decent amount of taps from around the world and India takes the lead,” he says. Artists like Ayaz Jokhio, Mehreen Murtaza, Fahd Burki and Amna Hashmi are getting the most queries.

Even Indians living abroad are showing an interest in Pakistani art, according to Prajit Dutta, partner, Aicon Gallery, which is present in New York, Palo Alto and London. Last year, Aicon held two shows with Pakistani artists in London and New York. This year, it has done solos with Zeeshan and Talha Rathore in New York. Coming up in July is a show with installation and video artists Adeela Suleman, Jokhio and Fareeda Batool. And there’s a possible Naiza Khan show in New York next year. Dutta is also planning to show these artists in India. “We’ve got a great response from Western and Indian collectors,” he says.

 

Pakistani art attractive proposition

The boom in the international art market and growing interest in South Asia have made Pakistani art an attractive proposition, feels Rana, especially since art from South Asia is expected to emulate the global success of Chinese art. “Pakistani art benefits from a kind of trickle-down effect from this tremendous energy in the Indian art market,” he says.

 

Shows planned

The Pakistanis are obviously eager to make their mark in the booming Indian art mart. Green Cardamom, for instance, is planning two exhibitions in India next year, one by the acclaimed Hamra Abbas, who works in everything from video to animation, miniature painting and sculpture. In her Lessons on Love series, she transposed the romantic figures of Indian miniatures into sculpture. Says Green Cardamom’s Nasar: “India is a place where almost all our artists are keen to show. So we’ll figure out ways to do this to their best advantage.”

Nature Morte too will host a solo with Abbas in 2009 in Delhi and Calcutta. Besides, Abbas and Rana are part of a large canvas project Nagy’s working on with auction house Phillips de Pury in London in November, which will then travel to New York in January.

Meanwhile, GALLERYSKE‘s Emmart too plans to mount curated shows by Indian and Pakistani artists. Even Vazirani intends to increase the Pakistan section of Saffronart’s auctions. And he will hold a two-city show with Pakistani artists in Mumbai and New York in 2009.

 

Prices still low

To be sure, prices are one reason why Pakistani art is suddenly becoming popular here. As Indian art prices soar, there are better bargains to be had across the border. One art critic says that emerging artists from Pakistan offer “much better value than most Indian art now”. Vazirani too says: “There are opportunities to discover new artists.”

According to one gallerist, high-quality miniatures from Pakistan are typically priced between $10,000 and $20,000 though the masters are more expensive.Autumn II, a miniature by Zahoor-Ul-Akhlaq, for instance, sold at Christie’s’ auction of South Asian Modern and Contemporary Art this month for over $39,000.

The artists, though, are sceptical of the commercialisation in the Indian art market. “What we have now is everyone trying to cash in, exploit the artist, and in some cases, the artist exploiting the buyer,” says Abidi.

Yet the artistic exchange seems set to continue – barring the arbitrariness of officialdom. And as Chatterjee says: “This is just the beginning.”

Image details: Rashid Rana

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