The Divine Is in the Detail is a new solo exhibition by Aisha Khalid, who is trained in miniature painting but offers a fresh and modern take on the ancient art. Anna Seaman reviews her show.
A detailed approach to art
Two jackets made from the finest silk fabric, and fitted exactly to the artist’s body, form a seminal part of Aisha Khalid’s solo show currently running at Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde in Dubai’s Alserkal Avenue. The identical jackets, hanging in the rear space of the gallery, have been meticulously embroidered with pins. One hangs with the sharp points facing out and the other with them on the inside. Titled Yourself or Yourself, the piece explores our conflicting inner and outer emotions and the masks that we wear for the world.
“It is about the personalities that we all have within us,” explains the artist. “What we hide and what we show and it also explores the idea of looking at ourselves from another perspective.”
It is reminiscent of an earlier piece that Khalid installed at the Sharjah Biennial in 2011 titled Kashmiri Shawl, for which she used gold-plated pins to talk about the suffering of people in Kashmir.
But in this show, the violence is more subtle and it’s also much more widespread.
“I focus on the relationship between human beings and God, but I cannot ignore the pain and violence that is all around us,” she explains. “It infiltrates my work.”
Wound is a place where the light enters you
Many of Khalid’s works in this show are named after parts of Sufi poetry from Rumi. She uses them to depict the reality of the physical and material world as well as the spiritual layer beyond. For example, in one, a triptych, she has painted a veil or a curtain in red that is parting to reveal bullet holes riddled in the golden layer underneath.
“The work does talk about violence as well as something precious that is being destroyed within,” says Khalid. “The veil is not the physical veil, it is more the veil between man and God and the veil between individuals, the veil that we can’t see.” But the bullet holes, which she has painted using the same pattern as the folds of that veil and using camouflage colours, are most definitely real.
West looks East
In a four-piece series, Khalid explores “the conversation between the blue and the red”, which is a metaphor for the conflicts or contrasts between East and West. Khalid is Pakistani, trained in Mughal miniature painting and, from her base in Lahore, has established herself as one of the region’s most important contemporary artists. But she also has works in the permanent collections of the Sharjah Art Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, Fukuoka Asian Art Museum in Japan and the World Bank in Washington. She has also spent much time living and working in the West and has chosen the symbol of the tulip flower to represent her message.
“The tulip is a famous Dutch flower and I began painting it when I lived in Amsterdam, but it originated in Persia and was brought over to Europe in the 16th century. For me, it is a poetic way of showing the two different sides of the world that can’t meet.”
In her paintings, the blue of the West is adjacent to and reflects the red of the East, and the bullet holes and flowers make their way across both sides.
“It shows how each side sees each other and how they want to see each other,” she says.
Constantly obsessed with the fine print and finding solace in the meditative practice of her work, Khalid says this show is a reflection on her meditation on the relationship between God and man. But the title of the show encompasses both this and the fact that she spends hours perfecting each square inch of her paintings. Working with logic and geometry inspires much of her work and she believes that mathematics is a form of divine knowledge.
With this in mind, the journey that she has presented in this show is a combination of the beauty and spiritualism of the divine, combined with the pervading violence and pain she feels around her. In a way, a summary of how many of us experience life.
• The Divine Is in the Detail runs until November 8 at Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde in Dubai