“Each artist has his or her own magic – each has his or her own way of approaching a subject and that’s what makes each artist unique,” says Ali Kazim.
A lot of Kazim’s own magic is palpable in his quiet determination and steady energy. It is also evident in his extreme talent and his inherent curiosity in the unknown. It is that eternal curiosity that has guided Kazim’s projects and career thus far.
The artist’s latest body of work which he displayed at Ruins, the exhibition organized by Jhaveri Contemporary in London, is an homage to a bygone time, and man’s lasting impression on the world. The artist has depicted rocky landscapes on a large-scale quadriptych, plains strewn with rocks and boulders, and close-ups of broken shards of terracotta pottery in exceptionally detailed works on paper. Sculptures resembling dark, craggy rocks inhabit a large corner of the exhibition, aimed at transporting the viewer into the paintings.
“I would like them to walk through it, and to feel that they are in a different time frame and landscape.”
The works in Ruins present the earth that man has walked upon and inhabited for centuries. Although the exhibition is a visual deviation from his previous practice that centred on vivid self-portraits, it is a genre of work that the artist has slowly been moving towards over time.
“I began with depicting figures with clouds that exist in the space between the earth and the sky, and that is how I moved towards the land. My work is still about people, their remains and abandoned ruins and their impressions.”
Kazim is fascinated by the human body and is interested in exploring its position within space and time. This desire to explore man’s identity and place in the universe has directed the majority of his art making and he returns to this theme time and time again.
This particular body of work took him 3 years to create and his delicate hand is evident throughout his landscapes; the resulting works have a profound gleam to them. Dark greys and deep browns dominate the colour palette of this exhibition – this mono-tonality further emphasizes the transformation that Kazim’s practice has undergone over the years.
“For the moment I don’t feel like working in colour anymore – it frightens me. I prefer to work in greys. The pigment in my drawings is black powder. It is dust, almost like a forensic dust powder.”
Kazim lives close to the site of Harappa, the ancient city of the Indus Valley civilization. Inspired and fascinated by remnants of former communities, he finds himself drawn to ruins. Time and research spent in the British museum and Natural History Museum in London further segmented this yearning for lost eras. He felt compelled to understand ancient cultures and delve into man’s place within time.
“I am searching for the links between civilizations and exploring what joins people.”
This particular series was perhaps most influenced by an area with an ancient dilapidated Shrine and graveyard near the River Ravi. Ravi crosses Northwestern India and Eastern Pakistan, running close to Lahore. This area is an unmarked settlement but has been left surprisingly untouched by encroaching farmlands or predatory landowners. Constant and heavy rains overturned the ground to reveal the relics of its former inhabitants, interspersed with more recent tributes to the shrine.
“I have been attempting to recreate the atmosphere of what I felt there, trying to construct a narrative through a range of images and objects. This untouched area, protected because of the shrine. The ground strewn with red dust and broken terracotta shards that sometimes retain the thumb prints of the potters.”
Kazim’s exhibition focuses on the interspersion of past ruins existing amongst a contemporary site, alluding to the mortality of man and the unexpected deep mark he can imprint on a landscape, just as those potters imprinted upon shards of pottery.
Kazim’s own personal past is perhaps the driving force behind his desire to explore new challenges and delve deeper into his artistic endeavours.
Growing up in a small village in Punjab with little to no experience with the arts, Kazim discovered he loved drawing while helping to decorate his school for Pakistan day. The first artworks he created were portraits of Pakistan’s heroes: Mohammed Ali Jinnah and Allama Iqbal. He pursued his passion by moving to a larger town and beginning an apprenticeship with a cinema billboard painter. Bright, hand painted posters and billboard signs are used to advertise new movies in Pakistan and billboard painters were held in high esteem.
Portraying scenes from movies opened up new worlds for the young Kazim who was a natural dreamer. He longed to expand his horizons and explore further afield. Movies encouraged Kazim to explore wider artistic prospects, as he sought to emulate the artisans and artistic traditions that were sometimes featured. Scenes of potters or carpenters, for example, inspired Kazim to seek out these tradesmen and learn their crafts. These multi-disciplinary skills have served Kazim well as he continues to build his oeuvre and expand his creative practice.
Even as a youth, art was never far from his mind. One summer after he graduated from school he travelled with the circus, painting the circus folk and animals. Later, during his medical degree while he was training to become a nurse, he would sketch portraits of patients and hospital staff.
His aspiration was to move to Lahore, which he managed to do when he was hired at a doctor’s clinic. The ancient city’s mystical energy was an allure for most small towners, and Kazim in particular was enamoured by its grand artistic traditions and above all else, the National College of Art, where he had been advised to study art.
Kazim’s belief in his abilities and his passion for his practice are evident now, yet even as a young 19 year old, trying to gain admission to NCA, he confidently convinced the admissions panel to accept him.
When one of NCA’s examiners asked him, “Why do you want to be an artist? I have heard artists die starving.” Kazim responded, “Well you are all also artists, you are not starving, so why should I?”
Ali Kazim: Ruins was on view at Rossi & Rossi during Asian Art Week in London from 03 – 12November 2016. It was organized by Jhaveri Contemporary.
Ali Kazim (b.1979, Pattoki, Pakistan) received his BFA from the National College of Arts, Lahore, in 2002 and an MFA from the Slade School of Fine Art, London, in 2011. His work has been exhibited widely in solo and group shows internationally, including: The Human Image: Masterpieces of Figurative Art from the British Museum, Seoul Art Centre, Korea (2016); Dust, The Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, Poland (2014); Drawn from Life, Abbot Hall Art Gallery, UK; Beyond the Page, Pacific Asia Museum, USA (2010).
He has exhibited at Rohtas 2, Lahore (2016, solo), Leila Heller Gallery, New York (2014), Yallay Art Gallery, Hong Kong (2014), Selma Feriani Gallery, Tunisia (2014), Jhaveri Contemporary, Mumbai (2013, solo). He has held residencies at The Art House, Wakefield, UK (2014) and Art OMI, New York (2006) and was recipient of ‘The Land Securities Studio Award’, London (2011), ‘Melvill Nettleship Prize for Figure Compostion’, UCL, London (2011), ‘Young Painter Award’, Lahore Arts Council.
Kazim’s work forms part of numerous public collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The British Museum, UK; The Victoria and Albert Museum, UK; Queensland Art Gallery, Australia; Asia Pacific Museum, Pasadena; Burger Collection, Hong Kong; Creative Cities Collection, Beijing; and Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, New Delhi. The artist lives and works in Lahore.