Sajjad Ahmed has participated in several solo and group exhibitions, in Pakistan and internationally. His work addresses a diverse scope of concerns around art, representation, abstraction, semiotics, region, religion and globalisation, manifested through assemblages of found-imagery, and executed in an array of mediums; prints, installations and time-based mediums. Ahmed is an awardee and alumni of South Asia Foundation. His artwork has been taught at City University of New York in 2009-10 as part of coursework, and exhibited along with likes of Takashi Murakami and Bert Stern. In 2011, his works around research of ‘oculus’ paintings from Renaissance period were inducted as a permanent installation at the Slought Foundation, Philadelphia. Ahmed’s works are in various art collections in Asia, Europe, Middle-East and North America. Ahmed is an awardee and alumni of South Asia Foundation, as well as finalist for Sovereign Asian Art Prize. Ahmed’s work was exhibited and included in permanent collections of Cathedral Museum of Atri, Italy and Moscow Museum of Modern Art, Russia.
Recently, his sixth solo exhibition ‘Spirit of Visual’ concluded at Sanat Gallery, Karachi along with publication of his monograph that covers his art practice till date in extensive manner.
AJ: How would you describe your visual language, or perhaps the process that goes into choosing the way in which your work manifests?
SA: Formalism is the core tone/dialect of my visual language. The aesthetics of the formal visual language that I use in my work are derived from a sum of my internalization of external experiences around me. Those two kinds of experiences are summed up intuitively as opposed to any pre-determined formulated method. I am open towards choices of mediums, and ultimately the ideas determine them. I have worked with photo-based mediums, video, installation, performance, painting, high-tech…The possibilities of mediums are interesting as they can involve life as a medium or using an auction to call it a medium and generating a statement through that, for instance.
AJ: You work functions on a meticulous paradox; the idea of ‘Being and Nothingness”. How do you reconcile with the two states of being, and how do you describe a state of nothingness?
SA: The writings of French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre inspired me greatly from early on. I was taken away by the foundational question of existentialism. For me the idea of “Being and Nothingness” is representative of the recognisable and the abstract. As an artist I address this idea by exploration of visual confrontation between multiple imageries of both representational and abstract natures. I see the state of nothingness as suspension of time, which for me, equates to amazing experience of imagination. It has enormous potential…of beauty, violence and much more…It’s like the sight of a nuclear explosion which resembles a mushroom cloud; a spectacle from distance, however, carrying enormous disaster within. And as a person who choose to be an artist, I have observed today’s world overflowing with a saturation of text and images. This superfluity substantiates the current times as an age of Being and Nothingness.”
AJ: Is the idea of juxtaposition a visual device in your works or is it a larger summation of observing the world through a binary lens?
SA: The idea of juxtaposition is a larger summation of observing the world from multiplicities of vision. It is an experiences of moments, days, months, years, history as a person. The method of observation very naturally translates as a visual device in my works since I internalise what I experience and eventually the floodgates of creative execution are directed by it. The reason being that I choose to keep myself as a person before the artistic role of mine. Everything is observed and inspired from mundane.
AJ: If I were to ask you to put the the two works ‘A Capitalist’s Hit’ (2008) and ‘A Capitalist’s Dream’ (2017) on the same spectrum, how would you say the term capitalist has evolved within your work?
SA: The term ‘Capitalist’ has remained the same as its role in globalisation has remained the same. I would like to talk about the phenomenon of capitalism and its evolution in my work. There is critique of capitalism in some of my works including the two works, almost a decade apart, that are being referenced here. The first one ‘A Capitalist Hit’ (executed in 2008) has irony as a conceptual tool and popular format of billboard-like visual appearance, with text and image. The other one, ‘A Capitalist’s Dream’ (executed in 2017) has a satire as a tool to critique economic system of globalisation and its visual device is heavily reliant on a dialogue between representation and abstraction. The evolution of phenomenon of capitalism as a subject in my art practice has departed from utilisation of results of an art event (an auction) to address the two confrontational economical systems of communism and capitalism, to arrival at the discussion of todays’ dreams of a newly promised economic arrangement between two countries of which one claims to be Islamic Democratic state and the other sticking to a communist identity. For me the most important aspect of this evolution in two of these works is the transition of formal elements that I have attempted to develop over the ten-year period between the execution of these works.
AJ: There is a strong thread of poetry in your works; the idea of man-made and nature being enabled within a singular unit. In your experience how do you rationalize the concept of the infinite; in a spatial sense and through the human experience of it through desire…
SA: James Irwin, an astronaut from Apollo 15, the fourth manned landing on the Moon, in July 1971, described Earth as “…an ornament hanging in the blackness of space. As we got farther and farther away it diminished in size. Finally, it shrank to the size of a marble, the most beautiful marble you can imagine. at beautiful, warm, living object looked so fragile, so delicate, that if you touched it with a finger it would crumble and fall apart…”
I have been fascinated by human exploration of and evolution over tremendous number of years. Nature and humans are one as humans are nature. What human tries to create is, if, not in sync with nature, the nature takes its toll. There has been constant learning and conciliation between The thread of poetry in form of the man-made and nature being enabled within a singular unit in my artworks is nothing different that the aforementioned evolution of human journey. It is poetic because the learning and conciliation, is itself poetic, that has been constantly happening between the two since pre-historic period to this moment.
I trust in scientific endeavours that have rationalised the idea of infinite. It might sound a paradox. However, the ever expanding universe has been described and proven scientifically by astronomer Edwin Hubble in 1921. Art and artists are one part of universe. Certainly it is rational for me on the basis of scientific proof whether it is about galaxies or a philosophical debate in my art practice. That is about the spatial sense. The larger spatial sense does translate on to, let’s say, a two-dimensional surface in a studio too. About the human experience of it through desire…desires take form of visions and visions can have no limit. They have potency of being infinite.
AJ: How would you describe the visual shift in your work over the years leading up to your most recent works?
SA: The visual shift has been parallel to my journey as a person and objective state of the world around me and my relationship with it. Those shifts are coming from amalgamations including DNA, my history and journey as a person, innovations of man-made and accessibility of those innovations. Expression and articulation of my visual language has transited from multiplicities to reductive. I consider it a creative challenge to derive simplicity out of complexity. Formalism has become more dominant and determining than it was in my earlier practice, even though it was the core structural basis and common thread of my practice then also.
AJ: In your earlier works you challenged the viewer’s gaze by enabling them to recognize themselves as a subject, but in your later works you have offered the viewers a vantage point; in a sense facilitated the concept of gaze and somewhat allowed them ownership of it. How would you respond to this?
SA: Both the mentioned visual approaches/methods are a decade from each other. More than an offering to viewers, it has to do with my artistic subjectivity and decisions that were conducted along with information by my life. It is an ever going journey of inwards to outwards. There are persistent parallels and double spaces in physical and metaphysical factors determining our mundane as well as creative lives. Hence, this transition was bound to happen when I look at it in retrospect. We are mirrors for mirrors.
AJ: Apart from sustaining your artistic practice you have also assumed a curatorial in the recent past. How do you think your process as an artist has enabled your curatorial process?
SA: I do not see hard divide between the two roles. As a curator I was doing the same what I try to do as an artist, in a collaborative spirit. My process as an artist has enabled my curatorial process in the sense that I equated curatorial process as a studio (while developing the curatorial premise). With that approach, being familiar with studio practice, naturally it informed the curatorial process in terms of functioning nature of conceiving and executing an idea into its physical manifestation.
AJ: Given the presence of windows within your work, if you could pick one window to gaze out from where would it be?
SA: It would be from the windows in “Being & Nothingness (VIII)”, because it is a view of reflection from outside and I am inquisitive how it would be from inside.