Saturday, July 11, 2009

Venice Biennale 2009 - East-West Divan Artists from Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan

Source: Nafas Art Magazine

He who knows himself and others
Here will also see,
That the East and West, like brothers,
Parted ne'er shall be.

Thoughtfully to float for ever
'Tween two worlds, be man's endeavour!
So between the East and West
To revolve, be my behest!

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe,
West-Östlicher Divan (1819)

Turquoise Mountain presents East-West Divan: Contemporary Art from Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan during the 53rd International Art Exhibition of the Biennale di Venezia. The exhibition includes recent works by ten artists from three countries, better known in the West for stereotypes of terrorism and Islamic extremism than for their rich artistic heritage and vibrant contemporary cultures.

East-West Divan challenges these negative perceptions with works by both emerging and established artists, who are engaged in an ongoing dialogue between the artistic traditions of East and West. Nowhere is this dialogue more present than in the grand architecture and decorative traditions of Venice, whose lucrative trade routes with the East produced some of the most spectacular fusions of Eastern and Western art and architecture.

East-West Divan meditates upon the links between the artistic traditions of Venice and the Persian artistic heritage shared by all three countries in this exhibition. The exhibition includes new works of art responding to traditions such as miniature painting, calligraphy and Islamic geometric design, revealing how contemporary artists, far from being overburdened by an ‘anxiety of influence’ from their rich cultural past, have found new ways to challenge and transform this cultural inheritance.

Playing with a broad range of references which bring together Pop art and Shi’ite shrines, modernist abstraction and Islamic architecture, the exhibition reflects on how culture and history can co-exist with today’s globalised, melting pot society. The title of the exhibition is taken from a collection of poems by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, inspired by the Persian poet Hafez, and refers to the ‘divan’ or council chamber, as a physical symbol of the coming together of different cultures.

East-West Divan presents a subtle and complex meditation upon the realities and perceptions of contemporary life, history and politics in the Middle East, South and Central Asia, unraveling – just a little - the tightly knotted relationship between East and West.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Kaleidoscope of views

Source: Gulf News

Eleven artists raise crucial contemporary issues, cataloguing Pakistan's changing perspectives

By Jyoti Kalsi, Special to Weekend Review
Published: 00:29 March 14, 2008

A special highlight of Art Dubai this year is an exhibition of contemporary Pakistani art titled Desperately Seeking Paradise.

Curated by Salima Hashemi, a well-known artist and dean of the School of Visual Arts in Lahore, the Pakistan Pavilion will feature paintings, sculptures and art installations by 11 artists from Pakistan.

“It is a great honour to have a pavilion dedicated to art from Pakistan at Art Dubai. Art fairs are largely commercial events driven by galleries.

"So it is wonderful that our artists have this opportunity to speak out and communicate directly with the viewers.

"As the curator, I have tried to look for artists who speak about issues related to Pakistan to a Pakistani audience.

"They do not have an eye on the West, and yet their work is seen in the West,'' Hashemi said.

The title she has chosen for the exhibition is inspired by the title of a book by Pakistan-born British philosopher Ziaudin Sardar.

“The book is an ironic and profound investigation into the travels of a Muslim sceptic.

"It is about making sense of the millions of questions that arise in the minds of those living in traditional societies, and the struggle to stay true to your beliefs and desires in a changing world.

"I felt Desperately Seeking Paradise would be a suitable title for this exhibition because we hope to represent parallel and iconoclastic passions engaging Pakistani artists today.

"Resurfacing from the suffocation of dictatorial rule, this generation of artists is probing taboos and rejecting canons with verve and wit.

"And as the title suggests, their work expresses a search for some sort of equilibrium,'' Hashemi said.

“Dubai as a location for Desperately Seeking Paradise seems particularly apt because the city is seeking to be an alternative destination for so many quests — economic, cultural, social and political.

"But beneath the surface, there lurks a subtext which preoccupies the Muslim world. Do we hope to circumscribe our contentious cultures, explore our inconsistencies and our disparate voices to eventually arrive at a common intersection — enriched, tolerant and humane? Or is this about a never-ending mirage?'' she asks.

The “Paradise'' that engages the artists selected for this exhibition is multilayered and brimming with promise. The artworks are diverse, presenting different ideas and perspectives in a variety of media and styles.

They range from Farida Batool's lenticular graphics to Rashid Rana's digital art that makes the viewer a part of the work through mirrors and metallic surfaces embedded within.

From Imran Quereshi's contemporary version of Mogul miniatures to Anwar Saeed's enigmatic blend of Christian, Hindu and Buddhist iconography.

Pakistani artists who have lived abroad bring their own special viewpoint.

Faiza Butt, who shuttles between London and Lahore, comments on modern society through paintings of her children playing with guns, while Ali Raza, who has recently returned to Pakistan from the US, confronts the militarisation of society and demands change through his painting of gun-toting combatants in fatigues travelling alongside ordinary people.

Mohammad Ali Talpur takes a more meditative approach through his giant Perspex cube crisscrossed by lines on its surface.

Huma Mulji and Naiza Khan look at wider contemporary issues through their thought-provoking installations.

Mulji, a sculptor and a photographer, makes a strong and witty protest against racial profiling and the humiliation suffered at airports by Muslims through a stuffed camel carcass squeezed into a suitcase.

Khan's installation consists of a boat floating in the lake beside the Madinat Arena.

Inside the boat are sculptures of several headless female torsos dressed in body armour. Another set of torsos stand on the edge of the water.

The work powerfully expresses the constraints on women and their tremendous desire to break free.

“The boat has been specially made by fishermen in Karachi and represents a dying art in this era of motorboats.

"It was a big challenge for us to transport this boat and Huma's stuffed camel all the way to Dubai,'' Hashemi said.

Dutch artist Sophie Ernst is an interesting inclusion in this exhibition.

“Sophie uses video to explore themes of belonging, displacement and cultural relativity in her work.

"Her video of interviews with young Pakistani men chasing the American dream fits well into our theme of ‘desperately seeking paradise','' Hashemi said.

“Sophie has been teaching art in Pakistan for the past five years and her work has been exhibited in Europe, India and Pakistan.

"She represents a bridge between different cultures and provides an important third voice to this exhibition.''

But, perhaps the most striking work and the one that truly embodies the vitality, freshness and innovative spirit of Pakistani art and this exhibition is Durriya Qazi's clay sculpture, Witness.

Dedicated to all humankind, this sculpture of two inert bodies, perhaps of innocent victims of war, lying in the bushes expresses the sad truth that throughout human history, there have been very few years of peace.

In a profound statement, the sculpture installed outdoors will gradually disintegrate into a pile of dust as nature takes its course.

“I want visitors from around the world to feel the artists' energy and their strength in the face of difficult circumstances.

"I hope the exhibits will surprise, amuse, challenge and provoke viewers. I wish the Pakistani community in the UAE comes in large numbers to the exhibition.

"I hope the artworks make Pakistanis here change their image of themselves and their country,'' Hashemi said.

“Pakistani art is now being noticed in the global art world. This exhibition will take it one step further,'' she added.

Art Dubai will be on from March 19 to March 22.
Jyoti Kalsi is a UAE-based art enthusiast.