Aicon Gallery is pleased to present recent works by Adeela Suleman in her second New York solo exhibition, Towards the End. The exhibition hinges around a new group of monumental hand-beaten steel reliefs, rendered in the filigree tradition of Islamic art, depicting beheaded figures engaged in violent, but also absurd, scenes of armed conflict.
From the Paleolithic into Neolithic eras, prehistoric humans shaped stone tools amid a progression of cultural and technological developments. Neolithic domestication led to permanent settlements, refining crafts such as pottery and weaving, to ultimately give rise to Bronze Age metallurgy. The emergence of metal tools advanced the technology of early civilization, including the first modern tools of war. In history, warriors are often portrayed with favored armaments – swords, lances, bows, shields, guns – adorning suits of protective armor. Arms not only provide visual evidence of a soldier’s capacity and stature, but also testify to his established role in the social hierarchy.
In the Mubarizun – No More series, Suleman portrays soldiers in binary identities, simultaneously as decorated heros and headless entities of war. Depictions of senseless killing lead to scenes of violent chaos and anarchy, rather than exploring the alternatives of altruistic reason and harmony. Decapitated soldiers march purposefully to battle, yet are unable to comprehend why. Historically, the term “mubarizun” (translated: duelers, or champions) referred to an elite unit of the Rashidun army comprised of top warriors – the master swordsmen, lancers and archers of their time. The Mubarizun were a recognized branch of the Muslim army, its sole purpose to slay as many opposing commanders, often in a duel preceeding the battle, for the purpose of demoralizing the enemy. In Mubarizun – No More Series 1, Suleman portrays two soldiers on a bed of flowers after beheading each other, with petal-like blood drops spraying from their severed necks as a crow sits unaffected upon one of the figures. The sculptures address, among other things, the archetypal history of human violence, paired with the inherent ambivalence of modern warfare, where killing on both small and large scales has become increasingly depersonalized and ambiguous in terms of accountability.
Suleman’s metal sword series, Karr Wa Farr, also incorporates the iconography of early Islamic warfare. Literally translated, “karr wa farr” means attack and flee, which was an early Arabian cavalry tactic. To weaken the enemies, infantry would use systematic advances and abandonments with spears and swords interspersed with arrow volleys. The strategic moment was reserved for a counterattack, supported by a flanked cavalry charge. In this sculptural series, Suleman depicts a small snake impaled upon a sword, whose blade is a wilted leaf, mounted upon a pedestal rendered in an arabesque pattern. Art, in this case, bears witness to the futility and ultimate impotence of violence as a means of social or cultural transformation, from past to present and into the future.
Signature to her style, many of Suleman’s sculptures are rendered in relief. Fashioned from hammered stainless steel, the finished works rise subtly from walls and platforms with intricate and shimmering detail. Despite their polish and refinement, the reliefs retain the humanistic aura of their hand-crafted creation and are rife with questions and suggestions beyond their figurative content. Suleman transforms basic subjects – often birds, plants, vases, weaponry, drapes and crowns – into a more complex iconography, revealing a deeper engagement with political, gender and societal concerns. Initially drawn to functional metallic objects such as colanders, drains, nuts and bolts, Suleman continues to create sculptures that both seek to beautify and dissect these prevalent themes.
The recurring motifs in Suleman’s work – organic subjects such as birds and flowers – form detailed, repetitive patterns, which are replete with symbolic meaning. Abstracted notions of loss and disappearance quietly resonate through her sculptures. In lieu of tombs, memorials and funerals, the works confront our earthly fears, but remain suggestive of transcendental relief. They may be seen simultaneously as symbolic representations of the coexistence between love of nature and the chaos of man, in addition to the fragmented documentaries referencing recent violent and catastrophic occurrences within the artist’s sociopolitical landscape.
Adeela Suleman studied Sculpture at the Indus Valley School of Art and completed a Master’s degree in International Relations from the University of Karachi. She is currently the Coordinator of Vasl Artists’ Collective in Karachi, in addition to being the Coordinator of the Fine Art Department at Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture. Suleman has participated extensively with group and solo exhibitions worldwide, including Phantoms of Asia at the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, the 2013 Asian Art Biennial at the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Art, Hanging Fire – Contemporary Art from Pakistan at The Asia Society, New York; Gallery Rohtas 2, Lahore; Canvas Gallery, Karachi; Aicon Gallery, New York; and, the International Exhibition of Contemporary Art, Bologna, Italy (2008). Reviews and features of work appear in Artforum and the New York Times, among other publications. The artist lives and works in Karachi, Pakistan.