I often find art works with a social-political subtext to be suspicious. Sometimes the message carries such urgency that it is conveyed to the detriment of the quality and craft of art. But such is not the case of the work by Imran Qureshi, one of the leading Pakistani contemporary artists and master of the delicate miniature painting techniques in the 16th century Persian and Mughal traditions.
To get his message through an audience beyond the frontiers of his country, Qureshi has crossed boundaries of the very painting traditions that he dominates, and updated the narrative content of this type of painting to current politically ticklish issues of violence, affecting not only Pakistan but also the rest of the world.
Yet his work is not just about violence. In his words, it is about hope and regeneration in the midst of destruction.
On top of content, Qureshi has also crossed the technical boundaries of space, and reinvented the miniature techniques, using some of their elements to make large scale site-specific installations, in which he has taken into account architectural elements of the site, and combined them with abstraction.
His recent installation was created on the 8,000 square feet floor on the rooftop of New York’s Metropolitan Museum. Under the title “And How Many Rains Must Fall Before the Stains are Washed Clean” from a poem by the renowned Urdu poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz (1911-1984), he painted elaborate ornamental motifs of leaf and flower patterns derived from traditional Islamic art, using a particularly bold acrylic red color in what he called “visceral blooms of acrylic” to represent the idea of life.
“The red reminds me of the situation in my country and the world around us, where violence is a daily occurrence. But somehow people still have hope. Flowers emerging from the red paint represent hope that despite everything, the people sustain somehow their hope for a better life”.
The installation lasted for six months until winter no longer allowed visitors to the museum’s rooftop, but an accompanying exhibition of his miniature paintings is still on view until Feb.2.
Although discreet and in a less spectacular scale, I find the paintings no less powerful, they are intriguing and intimate, wedging into the depths of consciousness through beauty, and heartfelt and multi-leveled story-telling, often with irony, and black or just genuine humor.
The paintings have interesting names like “Moderate Enlightenment”, “Hajra (An Arabic name originally meaning sunlight) loves the Rain” or “Threatened”, when the painting showed a group of trees.
I have also noticed that his previous works also carried evocative and poetic titles such as “And They Still Seek Traces of Blood” (2013), “Blood and Tears” (2011), “They Said It was Love” (2011), “All Are the Colors of My Heart” (2010), “Blessings Upon the Land of My Love” (2010).
Awarded in 2013 as “The Artist of the Year” by the Deutsche Bank and the 2011 prestigious Sharjah Biennale Prize, Qureshi has exhibited his work in many countries including the United States, Germany, Japan, England, Australia, Malaysia, India, Hong Kong, and his homeland of Lahore, Pakistan.
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Beware the Buyers
Gouache on pasted papers
6 3/4 × 11 in. (17.2 × 28 cm)