Desperately Seeking Paradise
The first curated exhibition at Art Dubai brought a new creative dimension to the fair. With a title borrowed from Ziauddin Sardar’s book, Desperately Seeking Paradise, featured some of Pakistan’s most exciting artists. Pakistan's distinctive art scene has developed independent of commercial influences, based on its artists' own beliefs and imagination.
The Pakistan Pavilion was also host to >> At the end of a Rainbow, showing some results of an artistic collaboration of Dubai's manual workers and AUD students in a 6 week photographic workshop. This unique programme offered a rare glimpse into the experiences of migrant labourers whose hands have shaped the landscape of Dubai.
Curator Salima Hashmi, about the exhibition and artists:
Desperately Seeking Paradise is consciously provocative in the way it explores artist preoccupations and divergent practices today. Pakistan, celebrated sixty years of its existence as an independent state in 2007; this history has been turbulent and politically fractured. Interestingly it is this very scenario which has bred a fertile and lively art movement, which has matured in the last decade. This show reveals a sustained, self critical panorama which is humorous, argumentative and innovative. It bristles with fresh ideas, ironic commentaries and musings on what it is to be a Muslim Society in the 21st century.
Among the best known of this generation is Rashid Rana, whose digital paintings are rife with multi-layered messages. Social and political juxtapositionings are couched in referential images. They can lull you into complacent visual pleasure or jolt you back into the sharpness of the real world.
Naiza Khan’s art practice also investigates social dualities. She explores contrary approaches to gender in a patriarchal society. The notion of ‘protection’ of the female, as opposed to the ‘containment’ of the female comes under scrutiny.
Huma Mulji’s ironic view of international Muslim travelers was a recent talking point in Pakistan’s newly inaugurated National Gallery. She approaches sombre issues with a lightheartedness, which is nevertheless insightful.
Meditative also, is Muhammad Ali Talpur’s world; sanguine, minimal and profound. This is a frame of mind which desires utter balance in the face of the conflict ridden reality that we know. Perhaps this is the dream that binds audiences and artists alike?
Farida Batool is an artist-cum-activist, whose work originates from the worrisome state of Pakistan’s cities. Her vocabulary embraces many mediums from lentricular prints to video to textile. In most desperate of circumstances, she testifies to the ingenuity of people she encounters.
Ali Raza and Faiza Butt, both comment on disturbing signs of increased militarization which insinuates itself into our psyche. Faiza Butt’s children are her models, whose games display an undercurrent of menace in all their innocence. Anwar Saeed on the other hand, retreats into an inner world. The narratives are mysterious, personal and compellingly urgent.
The recent decade has witnessed the emergence of a peculiarly Pakistani genre termed ‘the contemporary miniature’ and Imran Qureshi is one of its most eminent practitioners. Expanding the traditionalists’ agenda, Qureshi brings sensitivity to a heroic scale in his cryptic work ‘Unlearning Miniature’.
Dubai as a location for "Desperately Seeking Paradise" seems particularly apt. It is indeed seeking to be an alternative destination/refuge for many quests; economic, cultural, social and political. Dutch artist Sophie Ernst has lived and taught in Pakistan for the last five years and has documented the hopes of would-be paradise-seekers through her own prism. It is a poignant reminder of the still-to-be fulfilled dreams of all mortals.