Laurent Delaye presents Waseem Ahmed’s first solo exhibition in the UK. This is the second of a series of exhibitions that show a wide spectrum of contemporary artists from Pakistan. A graduate of the National College of Arts in Lahore, Ahmed (born 1976) is well known for his witty miniature paintings.
“It is perhaps a curious fact that the very tradition of miniature painting, particularly the Mughal style which is promoted as Pakistan’s cultural heritage, has become the inspiration for some of the most radical contemporary art work in Pakistan today. Within the current ‘re-invention’ of miniature painting, practitioners are interrogating the ideological motives behind such revival strategies, while still fascinated by the tradition.” Virginia Whiles.
Pakistan is a country that is often in the headlines, mostly for the wrong reasons. The media has a tendency to neglect the deep culture of this South Asian country and focus on its current bloody struggle. One certainly cannot deny the extreme socio-political turmoil that is shaping and threatening Pakistan’s future. However, as a consequence of this there has been an emergence of a new generation of artists and writers that seek to unravel the complexities of the status quo.
The Taliban and other fundamentalist groups are not often the central subject of works of art. Waseem Ahmed’s extraordinary series of miniatures turn this traditional taboo upside-down.
Ahmed’s work is uncompromising, yet his treatment of this subject is particularly nuanced. Mullah figures are delicately painted like saints or princes, their features refined, their expressions filled with inner peace. Around them, a spiritual world of the anticipated paradise is symbolised by the Garden, enriched by delicate calligraphy. Figures of covered women are everywhere. It is a world of desire and fulfilment within the transient reality of life on earth.
The latter, however, is made of mud and blood. Waseem Ahmed succeeds beautifully in presenting the collision of these two contradicting worlds. He presents the current compost of atrocities as a parallel psychological landscape to the Paradise that is so violently desired. This is a landscape of desolation and sublimation. The burqa becomes a camouflage for the suicide bomber; individual figures are turned into bullets, personifying fear.
His language deliberately uses the precision of the Mughal classical art on paper to suspend his subjects in this paradoxical present. Waseem Ahmed’s work combines a traditional medium with controversial subjects and reclaims the original function of miniatures: as chronicles of contemporary social issues.