Interview with Muhammad Zeeshan By Ria Sarkar Lahore based artist Muhammad Zeeshan has made a mark in the contemporary art world through his multi-disciplinary practice, mainly combining imagery inspired by pop culture with miniature painting techniques among many things. There was a time when he was earning his bread by painting cinema hoardings and conducting … Continue reading From cinema boards and dog fights to radical contemporary art
By Ria Sarkar
Anant Art returned to India Art Fair this year with nine phenomenal artists, each bringing their own unique talents and artistic pursuits to the table. Whether it was Noor Ali Chagani’s terracotta-brick carpet that toyed with the idea of perception, Umesh PK’s painting with the enormous ring of fire that drew in viewers by the dozen, or Malavika Rajnarayan’s quaint self-reflective works and Pratul Dash’s poetic jumping deer; they all incorporated expertise and thought into well crafted and meaningful artworks.
Read on to find out more about our artists – their practice, background, inspiration and particular techniques used in their works.
Muhammad Zeeshan’s works are part of a multi-disciplinary practice that touches upon various global socio-political concerns. His works engage the viewer in a visual dialogue that combines found imagery with original ideas, taking on a playful, conversational tone despite the serious context. Playing with the theatrical, Zeeshan channels his discontent with rampant corruption and terrorism post 9/11 into his works.
He had a humble beginning at a young age of 12, painting cinema boards in Mirpurkhas to pay for his materials. His current works often feature erotic imagery, which is a remnant from his first job. In a recent interview he says, “The cinema showed porn and I was hired as a team member of the painters where I had to censor the images to an extent that they captured the interest of the passing viewer on the street. Exposed to such images at an early age, they became normal every day visuals…so it was quite ordinary for me to use them in my compositions.” He uses a lot of pop imagery inspired by anything that catches his attention – whether they are visuals from high-end art, or something as banal as a cold drink brand. The beauty lies in the way he throws them together to create something unique.
Recently he has been using laser scoring technique to bring a greater level of precision in his works. “I was looking for a way to capture free hand drawing through various mediums; a medium, which would imitate my drawing principles and elements to the last dot. The beauty of the laser cutter lies in the way I can influence the laser’s intensity. The hot red point follows the exact pattern with the exact intensity and precision as indicated by my free hand instruction. It is a beautiful mimicking machine, which creates non-mechanical results upon your direction.”
One of the leading Contemporary miniaturists in South Asia today, Imran Qureshi has continued experimenting with 16th century Mughal Miniature painting styles in the most fascinating way. When asked about his distinctive art practice, he maintains that he was not aware of the tradition of miniature painting when he first enrolled in NCA, Lahore. During his studies he discovered it and came to love the intriguing contrast created when ‘abstraction’ is teamed with the careful discipline of miniature painting. The two genres are worlds apart and initially he faced a seemingly insurmountable task of finding a middle ground between the two. While abstract art is a flexible medium in terms of scale, miniature painting functions within a certain resolution. He says, “I pushed the boundaries of tradition as much as I could, but did not break them. My primary concern was to do away with ‘the figure’ in miniatures; something I have been exploring in my works since NCA days. To break the fear of experimenting in such a well defined genre of painting, I also used traditional figures from Mughal miniatures and juxtaposed them with new environments and contemporary imagery. Then again, I never bring change into my work very consciously; it just comes about naturally.”
The only conscious change Imran has made is the introduction of blood-red paint, following a terrorist attack in his hometown. After watching televised reports of the attack, he noticed a certain scarlet hue of paint in his studio, which led him to use it in his works to show blood spattered surfaces while keeping to some of the features from miniature works such as delicate floral patterns.
Imran Qureshi was proclaimed Deutsche Bank’s Artist of the Year in 2013 and received the ArtNow Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016. His work has been collected by major institutions abroad such as The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the Victoria & Albert Museum, London among many others.
Noor Ali Chagani
Noor Ali Chagani is a Lahore-based artist who works with handmade terracotta bricks of varying sizes. His unique sculptural installations comprise of these bricks which are fired in traditional ovens. For Noor, each brick is a unit that stands for family, social power and demarcates the boundaries of ownership. But on the other hand, they are also symbolic of absolute silence and isolation.
“My art practice is about the common man, particularly from South Asia where I belong; relating to his life, struggles, dreams, and fears. To me bricks and walls are a symbol of enormous strength.” By making them appear to be moving rather than stagnant, he plays around with the texture of material and medium. Works like ‘Under the Holy Bricks’ and ‘Life Line’ have an inexplicable softness in the folds which is difficult to achieve with something as rigid and unmalleable as bricks.
Growing up, he observed that an unending stream of responsibilities restrain people from showing their softer, more fragile side. His recent work “Hanging Carpet” is about transforming preconceived notions of solid walls, being moulded to represent something fragile and cloth-like. He says, “With this work, I am interested in bringing the bricks closer to our skin, transforming them into something wearable.” He has made a series of sculptures that appear to be textiles hanging from the wall and a series of carpets made of bricks. These sculptures speak to the intimacy of daily objects in our homes and how they connect us to the traditions of the past.
His first major international solo exhibition ‘House of bricks’ was held at Leila Heller Gallery, New York in 2016. Last year Noor bagged the prestigious Jameel Art Prize and was invited for their Residency programme at V&A Museum, London 2016.
Roohi Ahmed is a multidisciplinary artist who also teaches full time at the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture (IVS) in Karachi. Her work investigates the relationship of an individual with the space one inhabits, challenging a purely static notion of public space to promote a temporal logic that reflects its fluctuating character and hint at the invisible infrastructures and its politics.
The sewing needle is a recurring element in her artworks. “I was taught to sew from an early age and can stitch my own clothes. I am comfortable with the manipulations of needle and thread and this facility has naturally found its way into my praxis. Over the years, I have used the needle and the thread as objects of metaphor, and have even literally sewn my art works.” Roohi’s fascination with the needle is not just from a functional point of view, but also in terms of its minimal appearance. It is very simple like a line on one hand and yet figure-like with its eye; and directional because of its point.
Roohi’s approach to art is very interactive and encounter-based. She creates works that are charged with layers of meanings, bringing together objects to create an inter-work encounter of sorts. She has recently been exploring the ‘gathrie’ or bundle as a metaphorical apparatus in her work. It alludes to the concept of a womb but also as an all-encompassing article for storage. In a recent interview she explains, “The fact that it is a flat piece of covering and only takes shape when the objects inside it are put there is significant, much like the human body or the mind or even our memory banks.”
Roohi has exhibited widely throughout Pakistan and her work has been featured in the 11th Asian Art Biennial in Bangladesh and numerous other international exhibitions.
Abid Aslam went to Hunerkada College of Visual and Performing Arts in Lahore where he studied miniature painting and photography. He is interested in questions relating to human essence and seeks to explore those feelings and characteristics that differentiate us from other spiritual beings, such as angels. His inspiration comes from exploring the paradox of desire and lust, and how even the need to curb desire qualifies as desire. Of all our attractions and failings as people, he is intrigued by those qualities that make us human.
His current body of work features seemingly young and innocent subjects that are afflicted with covetousness. All their fears and anxieties can be boiled down to lust. Whether it be danger of failure; a momentous loss; the struggle between heaven and earth; those eternal forces that pit man against man, man against nature, man against virtue and indeed man versus self, individually or in a group-all of them stand for lust and define us as truly human.
Previously Abid has also made works inspired by monuments. “…whenever I see them [monuments] it tells a story of the past and remembrance of history which fills my heart with grief because of the unfortunate situation of my country. As an artist it is my duty to bring my country on the front in the global picture.” The most interesting feature of his artistic practice is the usage of miniscule eyelets made with graphite on wasli paper that give his works a peculiar pixelated effect.
Abid is currently pursuing an MFA from National College of Arts, Lahore. Till 2014, he worked as a lecturer teaching Miniature painting at Hunerkada. Abid has also received numerous accolades which include Special Award from Artist’s Association of Punjab 2016 and Arjumand Painting Award 2015. In 2013, he had his solo show at Canvas Art Gallery, Pakistan.
Pratul Dash is a multidimensional artist working across diverse media including painting, video art, performance art, photographic art, earth art, installation, and sculpture. His works are very vibrant with depictions that are at times disturbing, but presented in an elegant manner. A recipient of the prestigious Inlaks award, Pratul has participated in numerous art camps and residencies and is widely acknowledged for raising various environmental issues about the damages inflicted on the ecological balance, earth and society at large.
Coming from an academic background that privileges painting, he has been trying to unite traditional academic realism and his love for narratives, with his need to express socio-political concerns. Through his depictions he has tried to develop a new language. “My work reflects concerns about our environment as well as my own experiences of coming from a small town, leading a simple life, and being thrown unprepared into the chaos of urban spaces. “
Since 2003, he has been working with photography and video, focusing more on content and expression rather than technology and gadgets. Somehow this fascination for the ‘low tech’ is also linked to his concerns with neo-liberal urbanization and its resultant socio-economic fallouts. About his recent pursuits he says, “Over the years I have been exploring ‘performative video’ and reacting to site specificity in my art. Currently I am experimenting and expanding my video practice to multi-channel projections, and also exploring possibilities in re-working and re-presenting old photography.”
Mysore-based artist Suchender P’s present body of works feature animals through satiric and humorous depictions of animal-human intermingling. In light of globalisation, more and more species of wildlife are becoming endangered each day; a concern that is represented quite expertly by the artist.
Suchender is generally influenced by activities in his daily routine, such as reading the newspaper. Of late, he has repeatedly observed news about wild animals invading into human habitats in search of food or getting lost beyond their territory. His works explore the notion of ‘fragility’, from the point of view of boundaries and the dangers of crossing over into uncharted territories, whether it be animals coming into human areas or humans crossing over from one country to another; both scenarios have equally dangerous repercussions in current times.
In one work, Suchender has painted fortune telling parrots, each holding a card in its beak. The cards resemble flags of different countries, symbolically raising the question of uncertainty, insecurity, and tension between our immediate neighbours as well as on a global scale. In another work, he shows animals trying to go back to their lost territory which has been encroached by human expansion, urbanisation, mining etc.
Suchender’s solo shows have been featured in various reputed galleries in India including Gallery SKE, Bangalore and Anant Art Gallery, Delhi. Recent solo exhibitions include ‘Signal’, Gallery SKE, Bangalore 2016 and group exhibitions ‘First Edition’ and ‘The Sakshi show’ at Sakshi gallery, Mumbai 2013.
Umesh PK’s works are set in an imaginary historical period. They will take you through a visual journey from the gallery into a space envisioned in the artist’s mind, travelling into the realm of storytelling through art. Relying on his own visions rather than references from the material world, Umesh creates intensely vibrant works that feature a lot of flora, fauna and imagined characters. About his unique visual vocabulary he says, “Here paintings and drawings together set an elaborate pictorial fiction and fake material culture will liberate the visual narration from its two dimensional pictorial space and accentuate the fiction to a reliable account. Characters and backdrops in this fiction belong to a realm beyond our reasoning ability and allow me to hover in the sky of imagination.”
According to Umesh, each individual painting functions as an episode from a personal myth. Contrary to general perception that consider myths to be a subversion of history or a departure from reality, Umesh feels that myths are entwined within the deepest structure of our psyche. Hailing from Kerela, the lush landscape that one finds in his works could be a remnant of his childhood memories of growing up in a verdurous area. His recent work titled ‘Let there be Fire’ shows a vast landscape, apparently a primordial forest with a circle of fire in the centre. At first glance, the work can be mistaken to be a photograph, as the level of detailing is so finely executed that even brush strokes are not evident until closer inspection. As a rule Umesh avoids all kinds of photographic references and depends only on the accreted memory within the self.
Umesh P. K. is based in Baroda and his first solo show Excavated Memories- Posthumously Foretold Chronicles was exhibited at Contemplate Art Gallery, Coimbatore. His recent group shows include Ho~ARt at Krishnakriti Festival, Hyderabad and July Show, The Guild Art Gallery, Mumbai.
As an artist, Malavika Rajnarayan is deeply intrigued by the human figure. Her works are very self-reflective and take the viewer on a spiritual journey. She has developed a visual language which is informed by miniature painting traditions, capturing the beauty, grace and poetry that is associated with that genre in her own distinct way. Working across a collective conscience, Malavika aims at generating perspectives that can transform the mundane into magical experiences. Among these, the feminine experience holds the highest importance for her – which is evident in the strong female presence of her depictions.
About her preoccupation with the figure she says, “The human body fascinates me as a vast space of evocation and I draw the figure to understand strength and to celebrate fragility. My interest in painting the human figure is perhaps also determined by my interaction with people; when sometimes notions of the self and the other begin to blur.”
Through her practice, Malavika aims to raise questions about what we are introducing into our existing environment, whether the objects, words, images and communities we create are themselves transgressions, or whether they are merely uncomfortable cross-overs into shared territories.
Malavika is an artist based in Baroda. Her background in Indian classical music as well as her interest in the progression of Asian art and knowledge traditions forms the conceptual basis for her art, writing, teaching and workshops. She had her first solo with Anant Art Gallery in New Delhi in 2008. Some of the awards she has received are the Fundacao Oriente ‘Promising Young Artist Prize, Goa, the Nasreen Mohammedi award for postgraduate studies at M.S.University of Baroda and more recently, the Inlaks Shivadasani Grant for Emerging Critics.