x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Imran Qureshi’s new exhibition in Dubai is effectively drawing blood

The renowned Pakistani artist Imran Qureshi was Deutsche Bank’s 2013 Artist of the Year and as part of the touring exhibition that went along with this award, he visited Dubai. We checked out his show.

The Pakistani artist Imran Qureshi in the middle of his installation And They Still Seek the Traces of Blood. Courtesy Salsali Private Museum
The Pakistani artist Imran Qureshi in the middle of his installation And They Still Seek the Traces of Blood. Courtesy Salsali Private Museum

At the back of Dubai’s Salsali Private Museum (SPM) this month, there is a mountain. More than 21,000 pieces of paper have been crumpled and thrown in the far corners of the gallery to create a towering, chaotic structure. The papers bear images of Imran Qureshi’s roof garden installation that he completed last year at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

The images show a blood- splattered area that conjures up a feeling of horrific violence but, in reality, the bloodstains are meticulous hand-painted abstract patterns of red paint interspersed with delicate images of flowers.

The installation in SPM, titled And They Still Seek the Traces of Blood, works on many levels, explains the Pakistani artist. “The problem of violence is something that is growing; every day we see a new dimension of it, no matter where you come from. That is why the mountain is so big,” says Qureshi. “But at the same time, the idea was to allow people to interact with the piece.

“When something violent happens, the people who are affected are asked to stay away while other people investigate. In my piece, people can touch it, so they can investigate it and it is about that.”

The exhibition, which opened on January 23, marks Qureshi being named Deutsche Bank’s Artist of the Year 2013. The travelling exhibition started in Berlin, went to Rome and ends, after showing in Dubai, in Birmingham, England.

In some ways, the artist has come full circle. The Pakistani, who studied miniature painting at Lahore’s National College of Arts and is now one of its teachers, was spotted by the Deutsche Bank team in 2011, when he painted Bait Al Serkal for the Sharjah Biennial. The Sharjah work, Blessings Upon the Land of My Love, was the first time that blood appeared in Qureshi’s work.

“I was not expecting such a strong reaction to the work, but the response was really amazing,” he recalls. “People were sitting there in tears and they were from all over the world. I realised then all the layers of the work and that everyone can connect with it.”

This realisation was driven home last May when he arrived in New York for the roof garden commission. It was just five days after the Boston Marathon bombing and it underlined the fact that the entire world could relate to such violence as what Qureshi had experienced at home in Pakistan.

In addition to the mountain, there are several new images painted on the floor of the gallery in Dubai or dripping down the walls.

“These are extension of my drawings,” he says. “I finished them only hours before the exhibition opened.”

Also in the show are a series of oval works painted in gold with blood painted on top. “I am always trying to have two opposing things in my work,” says Qureshi. “The gold is metallic, shiny and exotic and the red is the opposite to that. To create imagery that spoke on such a surface was a challenge for me.”

Along the other walls are small panel works that illustrate Qureshi’s incredible ability as a miniature painter and some other pieces on the pages of a book about the biological qualities of blood.

Friedhelm Hütte, Deutsche Bank’s global head of art, who assumed a curatorial role with Qureshi, says it was a learning experience for all of them. The prize was not a cash award but was a collaborative process that involved the exhibition, the production of a catalogue and acquisitions by the bank. “The end result was that we all learnt from each other,” says Hütte. “Imran’s work is a fascinating combination of traditional techniques that he has transformed into contemporary art and although he has general themes of terror and fear and hope, it also brings a window to a part of the world that people don’t know so much.”

• The exhibition runs until February 28 at Salsali Private Museum, Alserkal Avenue, Dubai, 04 380 9600

aseaman@thenational.ae