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Book Review: Labyrinth of Reflection – The Art of Rashid Rana

The Mohatta Palace Museum in collaboration with the Standard Chartered Bank recently launched Labyrinth of Reflection- The Art of Rashid Rana. Published on the occasion of Rana’s major mid-career retrospective, currently being held at the Mohatta Palace Museum, the monograph entails a complete summation of one of Pakistan’s greatest artistic achievements in contemporary art.

Internationally acclaimed Rana is widely considered to be the most prominent and celebrated artist in South Asia. Famous for his software generated photo mosaics, whereby he creates a macro image using thousands of tiny photographs, the artist has come to be known as Pakistan’s leading example in multimedia art. His exhibition at the Mohatta Palace Museum, curated by Naazish Ata Ullah, Nasreen Askari and Hameed Haroon, is not just of great magnitude but is also the first survey of Rana’s work viewed in its entirety under one roof, by the general Pakistani audience.

Similarly, the stunningly-illustrated monograph –grand, daring and seductive –offers a fantastic overview of Rana’s career, which spans across two decades and includes works from his early career as a painter to his most recent photo mosaics and multi-media installations. It is the first in-depth study of Rana’s work to be published in Pakistan, providing an excellent chronicle of his exceptional practice. The thematic and chronological structure of the book brings to light the evolution and extent of Rana’s art and work methodology, while at the same time highlighting the recurring themes and ideas within his prolific career.Thus, in a way, the book stands as a portrait of the artist’s achievements and triumph.

Designed by TanazMinwala and MannanHashmi and printed by Topical Printers in Lahore, this large anthology is metallic and stern, yet beautifully quiet in character. A magnificent production, the book includes Rana’s studio shots, archival images, photographic documentation of exhibition openings and work installations inmuseums and galleries. It also includes five elaborate and insightful essays that contextualise the artist’s work, tracing his inception, influences, interests, while referring to the psychological and physical environment the work is created in.Most importantly, the writings discuss the impact of Rana’s practice not just within the peripheries of contemporary art but also in the age we live in.

In the essay ‘Contemporary to Modern- ZahoorulAkhlaq to Rashid Rana’, Naazish Ata Ullah surveys Rana’s work and ideas through understanding the role and significance of ZahoorulAkhlaq’s work in the evolution of art in Pakistan. Akhlaq’s visible influence on Rana’s work is also touched upon in Salima Hashmi’s essay ‘No Terror in Art’, which at the same time placesRana’s work against the setting of geo-political violence.

Rana, through his ideas and technique, explores the conflict of part and whole; the individual and the collective. In his essay ‘Most People are Other People’, Quddus Mirza gives examples of Rana’s work while debating the role of identity, its impossibility and its multiplication.

Internationally, Rana is well documented and written about. His monograph also includes an article by Indian critic and curator, Girish Shahane, in which he discusses the impact of Rana’s photo-mosaics and how his photographs affect contemporary art in India. Also incorporated within the essays is a conversation between Adnan Madni and Virginia Whiles contextualising and situating the artist’s practice inthe Western and/or even global art world.

Shedding more light on the processes and studio mechanisms involved within Rana’s practice is an essay by Razia I. Sadik. Employing a series of Skype interviews conducted over a period of six months, the article is a juxtaposition of the writer’s interview with Rana, and her critical response of its documentation.

Revealed after these precise and enlightening discourses, perhaps for readers to better understand and critique the artist’s practice, is the fabulous full-colour documentation of Rana’s work. Richly illustrating the book and covering the broad diversity of his visual practice, the documentation also features numerous ‘detail’ images of the incredibly intricate and complex masterpieces.

Accompanied by an up to date biography, bibliography and a personal timeline in conjunction with ‘World politics’, ‘World art view’, ‘Pakistan politics’ and ‘Pakistan art view’, “Labyrinth of Reflection, the art of Rashid Rana” provides a critical tool for navigating Rana’s practice and ideas.

Seher Naveed is a Fine Arts senior lecturer at the Indus Valley School of Art and has shown in local and international group exhibitions.

 

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