One of Pakistan’s most prestigious artists: Amin Rehman’s exhibition titled “Other Histories” was inaugurated at the Zahoor-ul-Akhlaq gallery in the respected National College of Arts on the 23rd of November, 2015. The show was a collaborative project with the world renowned British Pakistani activist, writer and film maker: Tariq Ali and was curated by Aasim Akhtar and Amra Ali.
Originally from Pakistan, Rehman is a multidisciplinary visual artist, currently based in Toronto, Canada and has been paving his way in the arts field since the 1980s. His almae-matres includes the National College of Arts, The University of Punjab, The University of Manchester and The University of Windsor. In the past he has explored the traditional way of approaching and tackling the arts by painting human figures and landscapes. Though, slowly, he has shifted his artistic methods to more contemporary forms by incorporating his subjective take on different issues revolving around various issues such as neo-colonialism, globalization, the ongoing war on terror and politics. He accomplishes this by creating a series of mixed media works that highlight language, quotations, extracts, verses or words from various books and diverse media sources.
This time around Rehman created conceptual ‘images’ by taking inspiration from a book titled “The Book of Saladin” written by Tariq Ali and words/phrases that frequently appear in the western media, to show the power of language and print media. His oeuvre consisted of text-based encaustic vinyl, neon signage, stainless steel, aluminum, video panels and replication of metal in fiber glass. He juxtaposed sentences and meanings as well as cultures by creating ‘drawings’ with English text written in either Kufic or the Nasta’liq Arabic script. Rehman created interplay with words by incorporating different colors, by removing rules of grammar and making the audience review each piece thoroughly in order to understand the diverse hidden meanings. He also managed to put the title “Other Histories” in perspective by showing how alternatives exist within each piece of his vinyl installation. He used color and typography to urge the readers to literally read between the lines. Each piece could be read and deciphered in many different ways and Rehman successfully managed to befuddle the audience and send floods of empathy from all directions of the gallery.
“Imperialism – 2014” is one of the vinyl installations that has foreground and background excerpts shrewdly picked out of Tariq Ali’s ‘The Clash of Fundamentalisms: Crusades, Jihads and Modernity’ 2002.
At times, instead of whole passages intertwined within one another, he has also used simple words and phrases to bring things into perspective. The encaustic tiles and eight “Shekels” (mixed media, coins of ancient Palestine) echoed out heart ricking avowals: Where Do We Go, What Has Gone Wrong, We Are The Walking Dead, Speak Up From Your Grave, You Are History.
Relatively speaking, in Akhtar’s words, Rehman’s compositions illustrate “the first world’s take on the third world”. With force, the artworks made the audience realize the current state of world affairs and where we stand, as Pakistanis and Muslim. It then focuses on the US intervention in countries like Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan and Iran. He discusses how the US Presidents justified their intrusion in all these countries with a majority consisting of Muslims and how in the 21st century we now live in the shadow of Muslim induced terrorism and Islam-phobia. Rehman forced us to question the state that we all are living in and to focus on why the culprits are disguising themselves as the heroes and saviors. He makes us question where it might stem from and who might be triggering it and why practicing religion is being erased and being defined as religious extremism?
The Zahoor-ul-Akhlaq gallery resonated with Rehman’s powerful work that brought on wave after wave of tremors that shook the viewer into opening their eyes and urging them to question the antiquity and state of their country and its very existence. The words guided us through the gallery and he managed to overpower each and every individual with the help of Ali’s words. The show managed to be powerful and thought provoking for the audience and something that is tremendously essential and indispensable in the times we live in. Rehnan’s work attempted to peel off blindfolds that have been sewn onto the eyes of the audience.
‘Other Histories’ by Amin Rehman ran at Zahoor ul Akhlaq Gallery, NCA, Lahore, from 23rd November to 7th December 2015.
Faryal Ahsan is a contemporary Pakistani artist. She is a graduate from the National College of Arts with a bachelor’s degree in Miniature Painting.