March saw a flurry of activities connecting Pakistani artists and the international art community. On the first of March, ArtNow organized an exhibition at Aman House, Karachi, by Sumaya Durrani, who is currently based in Australia. Rukh-e-Mustafa was a unique calligraphic and mixed media installation which centred on the concept of the spiritual quest.
The next week, ArtNow launched The Triumph of Icarus: Life and Art of Rasheed Araeen in collaboration with Millennium Media at Aman House. Araeen is a pioneer of minimalist sculpture and the founder of important critical journals including The Third Text. The book, a celebration of his multifaceted artistic career, features contributions by leading contemporary art critics, theorists, and scholars, including Hans Belting, Jean Fisher and Iftikhar Dadi. The discussion by the artist regarding his work was followed by a book signing and a question-and-answer session with the audience.
Accompanying the book launch was an exhibition of seven paintings by two expatriate artists, mother-and-daughter duo Nasreen and Sana Haroon, in honor of International Women’s Day. Nasreen Haroon’s landscapes and calligraphy have hung in the US embassies across the Middle East and North Africa, and she was appointed Cultural Envoy to the UAE in 2007 where she taught nine master classes. Sana Haroon’s works feature a strong pop aesthetic, inspired by the colours of California, where she resides.
Later in the month, the ArtNow team travelled to Art Dubai, the leading art fair of the Middle East, South Asian and North Africa region, as a media partner of the fair. Pakistani art was even more prominent in this edition than in past years, with top artists featured in multiple sections of the fair, and the luminaries of the Pakistani art world, including Rasheed Araeen, Salima Hashmi, Rashid Rana and Shahzia Sikander, out in full force.
ArtNow had the pleasure of presenting the inaugural ArtNow Lifetime Achievement Award to Rasheed Araeen during the opening of Terrace Talks at the fair’s Abraaj Group Lounge, in recognition of the unique artistic and cultural achievements of one of the greatest contemporary artists Pakistan has produced. The award ceremony was followed by a talk highlighting the legacy of Pakistan’s modernist artists with Rashid Rana, Shahzia Sikander and Nurjahan Akhlaq (daughter of Zahoor ul Akhlaq) in conversation with Simone Wille, an art historian and writer.
The discussion served as an insightful introduction to a new section, called Art Dubai Modern, which was devoted to modern masters from the Middle East and South Asia. Pakistani artists were notable in this section: Karachi’s ArtChowk the Gallery had a booth (the first time a Pakistani gallery has shown at the fair) devoted to Zahoor al Akhqlaq, Sadequain was on view at London’s Aicon Gallery, Anwar Jalal Shemza was shown by Mumbai’s Jhaveri Contemporary and London’s Grosvenor Gallery showed Rasheed Araeen. Araeen’s works are also being exhibited at Sharjah Art Foundation until June 2014.
The Modern Galleries were a welcome addition to the fair, introducing artists from who, though they remain largely unknown outside of the regions, have been towering figures in their local art worlds. Being able to view these works by these artists, who created alternative modernisms by incorporating the language of European modernism yet speaking against it, is a step towards creating new, more inclusive narratives of the history of art in the 20th century.
A similar thread was evident in the works of The Abraaj Group Art Prize, guest curated by Nada Raza, a Pakistani who is currently an Assistant Curator focusing on South Asia at Tate Modern in London. The works produced this year had the common theme of Bagh O Bahar: Garden and Spring. Each of the five works on display featured a response from a literary author, creating a dialogue that extended the conceptual concerns of the works beyond the physical work on display. For instance, Nadeem Aslman’s short story, set in Lahore, explores the dichotomy between traditional and modern and speaks directly to Kamrooz Aram’s wall installation, an investigation of the historical and aesthetic narratives created by museums and other institutions.
The way these art historical narratives marginalise or include particular artists and viewers is the theme for this month’s issue, Art and Its Audience. Our conviction is that artists, activists and organizers must work together to create a thriving, dynamic and equitable society. As part of this mission, ArtNow tries to bring together cultural figures in developing strategies to promote arts and culture and harness the arts as a means to rethink historical and cultural narratives, as figures such as Rasheed Araeen have done for decades.
Art is woven into the social fabric; it emerges from a particular culture, which moulds the artist in a unique way. There are many ways for art to have a positive social impact: beyond aesthetic appeal, it has the power to educate; to not just record an experience but to transform it. Much of the art produced today in Pakistan speaks directly to these shared experiences.
With this online magazine, we have hope we have expanded the audience for art by creating a virtual space which functions as a hub of creativity and fostering a cultural ecosystem where transformational ideas can be discussed.
Bye for NOW.