Seeing Pakistan in Its Captivating Entirety
By Zohreen Adamjee
Prominent community members and art enthusiastsa
The art featured in the recent exhibit at the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena may not be what you expect. The first piece displayed is a floor-to-ceiling installation of small clear pipes, connected together and forming a massive glass maze. A viewer has to be patient to notice that the blots of black ink are crawling forward within the pipes – a drop per second to be exact.
The exhibit “Beyond the Page: The Miniature as Attitude in Contemporary Art from Pakistan,” is co-presented by the London-based Green Cardamom. It features 13 artists, many of whom were trained in traditional miniature painting at the National College of Arts in Lahore, Pakistan.
A majority of those artists are now scattered across the globe, working from Boston, London, Melbourne, India, Rawalpindi, Jhelum, and Hyderabad. Like their different locations, each brings in a clear-cut style to the art pieces.
Figuring out what the style is attempting to demonstrate, however, is not as clear.
The artist of the pipe installation, Muhammad Zeeshan, described the transitory aspect of his piece.
“If you want to see the whole work you have to come again. You can’t just see a picture of it.”
A spectator nearby asks what the meaning of the piece is and how long it would take to see the ink make a full trip around the pipes. Not willing to give an easy answer, Zeeshan smiles and replies, “That you will have to see for yourself.”
Some may attempt to find the answers to the painting in the history of the miniature movement. The art of miniature painting was first known to exist in Persia where it was imported into India during the 1500’s. The movement has transformed over the centuries, and today’s artists maintain miniature’s stylistic roots while also building upon them with their own experiences and choice of mediums.
Understanding this background may still leave many perplexed as to what some of the art means. There are 50 works in the exhibit. Imran Qureshi’s work Moderate Enlightenment is created in the tradition of Mughal miniature painting. It shows a solitary figure of a young man with a beard, wearing a skull cap and shalwaar-kameez, in stark contrast to the portfolio that he is carrying and his moccasins; he might be walking to college or work - an image of the identity crises Pakistani youth is facing. Noor Ali Chagani’s work Possession uses miniature terracotta bricks and mixed media; it symbolizes the human desire to create a shelter.
One would imagine that with such an array of artwork, there would be a single statement as to what the art is attempting to demonstrate.
Could the slow moving ink be a commentary of the progress in Pakistan? Perhaps the maze-like feature is representative of the country’s complex problems?
Anna Sloan, the co-curator of the exhibition described the artists’ work on the opening night of the exhibit as “a reckoning of what Pakistan means from the inside and outside.”
It’s hard not to think about what Sloan said, and consider what Pakistan means to much of the “outside.” It’s often a misunderstood country that’s seen by foreigners through a quick glance at a picture on the front of the New York Times, or on a fast moving headline at the bottom of CNN’s screen.
On the night of the exhibit’s opening, the museum’s courtyard was filled with dozens of people: many of them Pakistani. Perhaps the pipe-ink installment would be seen by them as what many desire Pakistan to be seen as: a country that needs to be seen not by a quick snapshot, but in a holistic form seen in its true and beautiful entirety.
For a glimpse into traditional miniature paintings, the museum will bring out a select collection for display from Feb. 24 to May 16.
The exhibition was made possible through the generous support of the Pacific Asia Museum’s Pakistan Arts Council, Qaiser Madad and Meher Tabatabai, Amina Adaya, Aziz and Deanna Khan, Salim and Yasmin Adaya, Mansoor and Fiza Shah, Hamid and Javeeda Malik, Shahid and Ayesha Kamran, Ahmed and Perveen Ali, Shabbir and Tahira Ali, Ali Pourmola and Zara Shah, and Amr Tannir and Tehmina Adaya and will be featured until June 27.
On May 1, the museum will feature the arts and culture of Pakistan at the Pakistan Family Festival from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. The Festival will include music, crafts, demonstrations, and dance performances.