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Sunday, September 09, 2007

Surprised, General? - Ron Moreau

Set on a hill overlooking the capital city of Islamabad, the imposing brown-brick, for-tresslike building incorporates architectural motifs from the country's varied cultural past: Buddhist, Hindu, Mogul and British colonial. The four-story structure features plenty of windows of varying shapes and cool Oriental courtyards. It's topped off with a distinctly modern feature: large, curvy "scoops" of aluminum, which collect and diffuse natural light into the 14 galleries inside. "The galleries are subservient to art," says Naeem Pasha, 64, the Pakistan-born, Penn State-educated architect who designed it. "Each has its own atmosphere and plenty of natural light."

Some strikingly angry works hang on the wall along a yellow-brick ramp ascending to the gallery's second level. Two photographs, called "Witness," show mangled and seemingly decomposing clay bodies sprawled in the dirt, partially covered with leaves. They bear witness to the slaughter of civilians by U.S. air power in Iraq, says the artist, Durria Kazvi. Farther up the ramp is a large rectangular work of metal and clay, perfectly depicting an expanse of cracked desert land. Stuck in one corner is an unexploded mortar round. In this work, the artist Baloch seems to be depicting the wasteland that Baluchistan province has become under the Pakistan military's offensives against tribal nationalists.

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