IMRAN QURESHI and KHADIM ALI, the Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan Pavilion at the Venice Biennale.

A review by Rebecca Bell

Another off-site exhibition is the Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan Pavilion. This time based in an enormous old building which feels basilica-like in its weight and height. Rafters are filled with pigeons, dust gathers on sculptures – we consistently learn at the Biennale that whilst it allows art to  sit in its presence, the city takes few measures to provide the correct humidity, security, or other measures obsessively applied by the London art world. (A night out with the American Pavilion staff informs us that their job is largely dedicated to mopping water which pours from the roof and onto, nay through, the Bruce Nauman art works.) Amongst the works shown in this pavilion, I delight in those by artists Imran Qureshi and Khadim Ali. Having recently met Imran though a commission carried out by Art on the Underground where I work, I was moved to see the jewel-like creations of this softly spoken intelligent artist. Both artists trained at the National College of Arts in Lahore, Pakistan – the only college in the world that offers a degree in the techniques and history of miniature painting. The works are small, filled with detail, golds and greens, flourishes of Persian lettering. The works of Khadim Ali are particularly fascinating. Part of his “Rustam” series they draw on ancient myths whilst commenting on contemporary struggles. Rustam in the hero of the 10th-century Persian epic poem Shanamah, or Book of Kings. Rustam is a warrior, who upholds virtue and honour through glorious deeds. The figure of Rustam has been adopted by contemporary young Taliban as a figure of their battle. This association shocked the artist, who has created works which show demon-like figures whose long beards evoke Taliban fighters – thus pulling together ancient techniques with current references. Faint outlines of contemporary guns appear at odds and yet fit within the elaborate surface of his miniatures. The result is powerful and the works are beautiful and strange.

Rustam by Khadim Ali.
Rustam by Khadim Ali.

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