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Thursday, September 03, 2009

Contradiction Remains Vital to Pakistan and Its Art

“Hanging Fire,” which opens next Thursday, is the first major survey of contemporary art from Pakistan to be presented by an American museum. And for many artists and curators who have long worked in relative obscurity in Pakistan’s contemporary art world — one that has been thriving since the 1980s despite and perhaps in some ways because of the country’s instability — it is a highly anticipated event.
The exhibition features the work of 15 artists, almost all of whom live and work in Pakistan. Most have passed at one time or another through the National College of Arts in Lahore, an influential force in the country’s artistic life, where the show’s curator, the painter and writer Salima Hashmi, taught for many years. (In the exhibition’s catalog the novelist Mohsin Hamid lovingly describes the school as a microcosm of creative Pakistan; many of his friends went there, and he remembers it as a place where “people who prayed five times a day and people who escaped from their hostels late at night to disappear on sexual adventures in the city could coexist.”) Contradiction Remains Vital to Pakistan and Its Art -Randy Kennedy

In her first American paintings Ms. Ahmed Shikoh reimagined the Statue of Liberty in her own image: in a Pakistani wedding dress, as a pregnant immigrant and as a regal mother, baby on hip. Next she transformed the subway map with paint and calligraphic script into an Urdu manuscript that made the city feel more like hers. Finally, in 2006, after she made the difficult decision to cover her hair, inspired by Muslim-American women who managed to combine faith and a career, Ms. Ahmed Shikoh began using the head scarf as a recurring image. The Intersection of Islam, America and Identity

The art of the book and the art of writing are the subjects of paired exhibitions at Asia Society, “Traces of the Calligrapher: Islamic Calligraphy in Practice, Circa 1600-1900” and “Writing the Word of God: Calligraphy and the Qur’an.” Perfect in size and proportion, carefully thought out and gorgeous, they are worthy of the book they honor. Copying the Koran, One Book at a Time


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