by Koan Jeff Baysa, M.D.
Hanging Fire, the idiom used to suggest a critical delay, is the first museum show in America at the Asia Society in New York of contemporary art from Pakistan. The country, created by partition in 1947, constitutes the second largest Muslim population in the world. Subject to ongoing and complex forces that result in quotidian tenuousness and violence, a critical mass of creative individuals, mainly in the theater and visual arts, is able to continue to produce. This exhibition, curated by the curator/writer, Salima Hashmi, includes 55 works by 15 artists. Her aims were to exhibit Pakistan’s contemporary art from the “here and now” rather than a historical view, and to include photography, a medium that has not yet achieved the full status of art in that country.
Notable photo-based images include Lahore-based Rashid Rana’s Red Carpet 1, (2007), based on the coincidence of two events: the artist’s visit to an abattoir for goats and the carnage resulting from the assassination attempt on Benazir Bhutto as she returned from exile. Miniature images of the abattoir’s blood and rendered bodies comprise the assembled image of a traditional carpet. Trained as a painter, Rana uses formal conceptual approaches in this work, yet removes the hand of the artist through the use of digital manipulation. This is in contradistinction to the labor-intensive handiwork done largely by women and children in the production of traditional carpets. The stunning attributes of the piece impacts the viewer twice: once with its overall aesthetics and scale, then again with the individual images when examined close-up.
Arif Mahmood’s Young and the Fearless, (2004), is an engaging and chilling image, prescient of the issues raised in the current film about a 14 year old Kashmiri soccer player who comes upon a gun. It is emblematic of the false bravado and empowerment issues often felt by youths. The self-described street photographer, based in Karachi, states, “I document what I see, but I also give a small part of myself to the image.”
This highly recommended show includes other photo-based works, as well as painting, video, and sculpture by Hamra Abbas, Bani Abidi, Zahoor ul Akhlaq, Faiza Butt, Ayaz Jokhio, Naiza Khan, Huma Mulji, Asma Mundrawala, Imran Qureshi, Ali Raza, Answar Saeed, Adeela Suleman, and Mahreen Zuberi.
--Kóan Jeff Baysa
(*Images: Rashid Rana, Red Carpet 1, 2007, chromogenic print, 72 x 60 in. Arif Mahmood, Young and the Fearless, 2004, gelatin silver print, 16 x 16 in. Images courtesy of Asia Society New York.)