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The Pakistani Phoenix: Second Birth

Imran Qureshi probably doesn’t need presentations: in 2013 he has been the most talked about Pakistani artist abroad. Named “Artist of the Year” by the International Deutsche Bank Global Art Advisory Council, which includes renowned curators Okwui Enwezor, Hou Hanru, Udo Kittelmann and Victoria Noorthoorn, last year has been hectic for the brilliant Lahore-based artist and National College of Arts professor, born in 1972 in Hydereabad, Sindh.

In May he exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, where he realized a spectacular, yet discreet, site-specific installation on the rooftop. In June he participated in the 55th edition of the Venice Biennale with a series of small size miniatures, part of the main show curated by the gifted Italian director Massimiliano Gioni.

The Deutsche Bank award’s show has been travelling from the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle in Berlin to the MACRO – Museo d’arte contemporanea – in Rome and recently got closer to home since it is currently showing at the Salsali Private Museum in Dubai. While Imran Qureshi and his wife Aisha Khalid keep on obtaining success around Asia (now through a two-person show at the Pao Galleries in Hong Kong Arts Centre), we went to visit the show in the UAE.

The Salsali Private Museum in Dubai, located in one of the warehouse of the industrial-like neighbourhood of Al Quoz, which hosts many exhibition spaces, is more the size of a private gallery than a proper museum. Anyhow, Qureshi’s works are fairly displayed and well lit. Visiting the show is a striking experience.

The first spacious room houses the two imposing, oval shaped diptychs, where the red acrylic dripping on canvas inevitably recalls blood and therefore violence, suffering and death. In Give & Take, Imran Qureshi’s flowers and foliage, inspired by the traditional mogul-era miniature paintings, seem to bloom from a thin, and then thicker, layer of monochromatic painting. As a message of hope, this rebirth from the ashes symbolises the cycle of life, the opportunity lying within the crisis.

The golden addition in the other diptych, They Shimmer Still, and to a certain extent also in Bleed, gives the works a holy aura, and adds to the surrounding space the special solemnity that one would find only in a place of worship.

In the site-specific installation If you want to stay with me, Qureshi abandons the glaze of the ceremonial rituals and the emotions get more tangible. While the blood-red painting pours out of the snow-white paper leaving the conventional artsy place, the sophisticated drawing compromises and reaches the soil to invade the real, every day life.

The second room of the Salsali Museum hosts And they still seek the traces of blood, another site-specific installation, that fills up the entire space with twenty-two thousand shrunken posters with Qureshi’s drawings printed on them. The general view is very captivating and the psychological effect of what looks like mountains of tissues or bandages dirtied with blood is overwhelming.

Qureshi’s latest research seems to go towards a more minimalistic and abstract language compared to the series of small-size gold leaf and gouache on wasli paper, such as Blessings Upon the Land of My Love (2011) or Moderate Enlightenment (2006-2009). However even the recent pieces maintain a strong narrative aspect, typical of the traditional miniature painting. Indeed, the outstanding works of Imran Qureshi tell us about the complexities of our contemporary world, in a poetic and yet understandable and down-to-earth way.♦

‘Imran Qureshi‘ is on at Salsali Private Museum, Dubai, from 23rd January to 28th February 2014.

Lavinia Filippi is an art critic, curator and writer based in Pakistan and Italy. She has worked for international art galleries and museums and is a writer and anchor for Italian National Television (RAI)

 

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