ArtNow had the privilege to host a talk with Bani Abidi as part of our Springboard Series. It was held at Fomma DHA Art Centre. Bani has garnered a great deal of interest locally as well as internationally after being the first of two artists to ever be invited to dOCUMENTA , the world’s most prestigious art exhibition held every five years in Kassel, Germany. Bani showed a short version of her video that was commissioned by the Sharjah Art Foundation and shown at dOCUMENTA titled Death at a 30 Degree Angle which references the awkward angles at which statues of dictators fall after they are dethroned. Bani also spoke about her other recent projects such as Speech Writer and Section Yellow both of which have not been seen by audiences in Pakistan, her last show occurring at VM Art Gallery in 2009 titled The Ghost of Mohammad Bin Qasim.
One of the most engaging elements of Bani Abidi’s practice seems to be her fascination for creating fictional characters whose voice she uses to express her own ideas and concerns. But these characters are not just cloned ventriloquists of herself. Somewhere along their line of evolution, they take on characteristics of their own and develop as full-bodied individuality and though they don’t stray far from the tree, they are convincing enough to be reckoned with. For example, the Ghost of Mohammad Bin Qasim centers around a young man named Yusuf Masih who has just converted to Islam and now calls himself Yusuf Khan. He then proceeds to ride a horse wearing the Arab garb, visiting the historical monuments of Pakistan. Abidi’s photoshopped pictures depict the figure and the landmarks in varying scales of skewed distortion but ironically, viewers fail to pick up on the untruth of the picture.
In another project, Abidi creates a fictional character of an avid maker of battle scene dioramas, except that the scene this hobbyist is creating is not an historical event but the ongoing struggle for liberation in Palestine. The absorbing quality of the project is manifold –the fictional person creating these dioramas feels real; the miniature figures available in the market depict stereotypes of Arab /Palestinian “anarchists” and the extensive props such as the Palestinian wall and barricades are replicas of the TV war narrative.
The fictional persona appears again in Death at a 30 Degree Angle in the shape of a politician who is unable to decide the stance of his portrait statue by which he wants to be remembered posthumously.
Bani Abidi’s cutting edge, thoughtful, cerebral work strays from the overt narrative of politics and violence but grasps the bigger more universal issues of power play, dictatorial authority, the role of memory in the writing of history and the visceral concerns of insecurity and disenfranchisement. She is an artist who represents the best of Pakistani contemporary art.