x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Pakistani's Imran Qureshi is Deutsche Bank KunstHalle's Artist of the Year

Starting April 18, the Deutsche Bank Kunsthalle in Berlin honors Pakistani artist Imran Qureshi.

Imran Qureshi's artwork titled Threatened. Courtesy Imran Qureshi and Corvi-Mora
Imran Qureshi's artwork titled Threatened. Courtesy Imran Qureshi and Corvi-Mora

The Pakistani artist Imran Qureshi is trying something new. In Berlin, he has constructed what he calls a mountain out of paper smudged with red pigment.

It's not delicate crimson. The red seems a saturation of blood, with the paper piled high like a body count in a wounded landscape.

Anyone seeking meaning in Qureshi's work is about to get an eyeful. Starting Thursday, the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle in Berlin honours Qureshi, 41, as Deutsche Bank's Artist of the Year. Next month, the painter covers the surfaces of the Roof Garden of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. In its scale, the Met project echoes Qureshi's prize-winning gesture at the 2011 Sharjah Biennial - a blood-spattered courtyard where floral patterns took shape around bloodstains. He called it Blessings Upon the Land of My Love.

The Met roof garden sits above Central Park's larger garden. "I immediately relate it to the landscape of miniature painting - the placement of trees, the colours and the perspective from the top," says Qureshi.

At Frieze New York, on an island in the East River, Qureshi promises "a three-dimensional piece that will be like looking at a landscape through a big window".

Qureshi's now global reach has its roots in miniature painting, a delicate venerable medium that demands long, rigorous training. Sounding weary in Lahore, where he'd been preparing for the Berlin exhibition "for months", Qureshi calls his miniatures "very traditionally painted in layout and technique, but the subject matter and the content of the work is contemporary". One picture depicts a man kneeling - Qureshi himself? - painting flowers around dense circles of red blood.

"I never found it confining me or restricting me from what I wanted to say in my art. And no matter what I'm trying to say, you can see a strong connection to the miniature painting in my language of art-making," he says. "I took it as a challenge, to get something new out of it."

Qureshi's "practice", as he calls it, has three parts - traditional miniatures, abstract works on paper or canvas and site-specific sculptural installations.

And red - too much for it to be just another hue in his palette.

"I was already using blue and white and red in my work - not blood red but the red of the American flag. I was creating a lot of abstract maps with these colours, all about how the world was changing and the political situation."

"The bloody red came in 2010," he says. "There was an incident near my house, in an area that I knew well called R A Bazaar, an attack. The images on TV were bloody. Where it was otherwise so full of life, I saw how in a second a place can transform into hell. Basically, it's not just Pakistan - the violence is everywhere now, the terrorism and the fear of violence. That's why I think it is not specifically about my country, it's a very global kind of language which has evolved in my work."

Fame and notoriety came with his 2011 Sharjah installation. "Sharjah was a major shift, not only in the art that I produce but in the way people saw that art. I was still using the same two variables - a dialogue between life and the destruction of life, and between nature and the destruction of nature - but in Sharjah it was in a very different way.

"People were crying when they were walking on my artwork. They were confused, because it was eating at them as personal, political, religious - one Japanese woman saw it through the experience of the tsunami at that time. Everybody had his own connection. It was a wonderful experience, seeing an artwork work in such a powerful way."

Since then, Qureshi has been in demand. Yet as his work travels, he always returns to Lahore. "So many artists are living abroad. They're talking about Pakistan but they have no connection to this country. They're exploiting the situation, yet they have nothing to say."

 

artslife@thenational.ae