Pakistani Artists Exhibit ‘Rag Paper’ Paintings in US

The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum presents Karkhana: A Contemporary Collaboration, on view through March 12, 2006. Karkhana: A Contemporary Collaboration will feature a series of works by six contemporary Pakistani artists: Aisha Khalid, Hasnat Mehmood, Muhammad Imran Qureshi, Nusra Latif Qureshi, Talha Rathore, and Saira Wasim. The exhibition will be open to the public from August 21, 2005 through March 12, 2006. A reception for the exhibition will be held at The Aldrich on Sunday, October 16, 2005. Karkhana has been organized by Jessica Hough, curator at The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum; London-based independent curator and writer Hammad Nasar; and Anna Sloan, a writer, curator, and historian of Islamic and South Asian Art at Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, Massachusetts. This exhibition will travel to The Asian Art Museum in San Francisco from August 4 through November 5, 2006 and Asia Society, New York in 2007.

At the core of the exhibition is a series of collaboratively-produced paintings initiated as a creative experiment by Muhammad Imran Qureshi in 2003. He contacted the five other Pakistani painters, all alumni of the miniature department at the National College of Arts in Lahore, but now living in different cities around the world, with the suggestion that each artist start two new paintings made on wasli (rag paper). Each work was then sent to another artist in the group, who applied another layer of imagery, marks, or other processes, and passed it along until all of the artists had added to each of the twelve paintings. Karkhana includes these twelve miniature paintings, and five additional paintings by each of the six artists. Although separate from the series of twelve collaborative paintings, these additional works resonate visually with them, allowing viewers to recognize the hand of each artist within the collaborations. Viewers may also be persuaded to consider how artists working collaboratively might influence each other, or react to visual information already on the paper. An animation showing the development of each of the collaborative works will play on a monitor in an adjoining gallery .

The original Karkhana collaboration was inspired by the cooperative nature of miniature painting practiced in South Asia’s pre-modern courts. The Urdu term “karkhana” describes the kind of painting workshops patronized by Mughal emperors who ruled the territories of present-day India and Pakistan. In these workshops, multiple artists would have worked on a single painting under the direction of a master, each contributing visual components according to their particular skills. By email, Imran Qureshi addressed this very different twenty-first century karkhana, “Although we were physically distant, it felt like we were engaged in a dialogue. We would listen to each other through the work, and respond.” The past two decades have witnessed a vibrant revival of miniature painting; artists have revitalized the pictorial tradition, negotiating a fine balance between historical practices and post-modern conceptual concerns. These paintings are an experiment in artistic collaboration revealing improvisation, acts of creative destruction, semiotic play, and dynamic adaptation .

A catalogue is being jointly published by The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum and Green Cardamom, London. The book includes full-color reproductions of the works in the exhibition and essays by co-curators Jessica Hough, Hammad Nasar , and Anna Sloan, as well as by Qamar Adamjee, research assistant in the Islamic Arts Department, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; B. N. Goswamy (introduction), renowned art historian and author of numerous books on miniature painting; Salima Hashmi, former principal of NCA and head of visual arts at the Beaconhouse National University, Lahore; Sandhya Jain, conservation specialist and art historian; Dr. John Seyller, art historian and leading authority on Mughal painting; and Virginia Whiles, historian, critic, and curator of the recent landmark survey exhibition of contemporary miniature painting at the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum.

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