Art heart: Breaking barriers, repairing rifts

Art heart: Breaking barriers, repairing rifts
Saba Qizilbash, Sialkot to Jammu, 2018; Graphite and wash on water colour board, 30 x 66 in

A ground-breaking group exhibition of Pakistani and Indian artists opens in New York on June 28

Priya Ravish Mehra, I will meet you yet again, 2018, Hand woven silk darned with cotton and silk fabric and thread, 108 x 45.5 in

Priya Ravish Mehra, I will meet you yet again, 2018, Hand woven silk darned with cotton and silk fabric and thread, 108 x 45.5 in

Pale Sentinels: Metaphors for Dialogues
A Tribute to Priya Ravish Mehra
Curated by Salima Hashmi
Aicon Gallery Exhibition, June 28 – July 28, 2018
35 Great Jones St., New York, NY 10012
+1-212-725-6092; [email protected]
Press preview and Opening Reception: Thursday, June 28, 6:00pm – 8:00pm

An Indo-Pak group art exhibition curated by the well-known Pakistani artist and art-educator Salima Hashmi, featuring celebrated, award-winning artists from both sides, is scheduled to open in New York City on Thursday, June 28 at 6 pm.

Titled Pale Sentinels: Metaphors for Dialogues, the exhibition will be on at the Aicon Gallery for a month, until July 28. It is also a tribute to Priya Ravish Mehra, the celebrated Delhi-based textile artist and weaver who lost her battle against cancer in May.

Participating artists from Pakistan are Faiza Butt (b. 1973), Waqas Khan (b. 1982), Ghulam Mohammad (b. 1979), Saba Qizilbash (b. 1977) and Shehnaz Ismail (b. 1946). Indian artists whose work is included in the show are Shilpa Gupta (b. 1976), Nilima Sheikh (b. 1945) and Priya Ravish Mehra (1961-2018) (1959?

Salima Hashmi: "... the power of loving endurance" (file photo)

Salima Hashmi: “… the power of loving endurance” (file photo)

The exhibition reflects upon “the faded accounts, mementos, and narratives of loss that came about as a result of the complete demographic transformation during the 1947 India-Pakistan partition” says a press release from Aicon.

“Since then, both nations have attempted to define and redefine themselves many times. Subtle shifts have occurred, layers rearranged, partly unobtrusive and occasionally self-consciously brazen. Histories brim with contradictory chronicles, with paradoxes, with elusive truths. Tantalizing possibilities of reframing materialize. Poets, artists, and filmmakers probe and shift the compass. Seventy years is as good a time as any to muse upon the collective residue”.

The exhibition’s title is based on a poem by Salima Hashmi’s father Faiz Ahmed Faiz, ‘A Prison Morning’ (Zindaan ki aik subh), which describes daybreak in prison, the sounds of keys opening locks and chains jangling, with weary guards, “pale with hunger and sleeplessness”.

Shehnaz Ismail, All my hopes, 2018 (detail); Hand woven cotton, cotton potli with silver, beaded and wooden amulets, red and yellow mannat threads interwoven with cotton and terracotta plate, 93 x 49 in.

Shehnaz Ismail, All my hopes, 2018 (detail); Hand woven cotton, cotton potli with silver, beaded and wooden amulets, red and yellow mannat threads interwoven with cotton and terracotta plate, 93 x 49 in.

“The poet realizes that the prisoners and those who guard them are equally in despair,” writes Hashmi in her Curator’s Note. “Over the years, the status quo in the subcontinent has become a desert. No claims are made, no margins set, no ambitions to disturb the sentinels who have guarded swathes of humanity for three generations”.

Artists from across the border come together in this exhibition, already aware that the guards or “sentinels are worn down and weary, rendered ineffective by the technologies that now facilitate such collaborations and conversation”, comments Hashmi.

“Each artist in this group has, in one way or another, engaged with borders and constraints. Waqas Khan, Ghulam Mohammad, Saba Qizilbash, Faiza Butt and Shilpa Gupta represent a generation born decades after the massive separations witnessed in 1947. Directly or obliquely, each of them addresses notions of redressal, of probing leading to healing in the face of continual denial of collective hurt. To sustain hope, artists scrutinize the limits of endurance. The older generation is more collected in its response. Nilima Sheikh, Shehnaz Ismail and Priya Ravish Mehra, witness to grave vicissitudes, take to poetic repose”.

This significant exhibition is the first in New York showing the works of Priya Ravish Mehra whose lifetime association with rafoogari’s traditional textile darners is represented in her work as a compelling metaphor. “The concept of ‘repair’ is presented as a healing modality of intimate self-knowledge, and honors the place, significance and act of visible and invisible darning in the fabric of any life, as much as in the life of any fabric”.

The embodiment of this idea is in two textiles exchanged between Shehnaz Ismail and Priya Ravish Mehra. One originated in Sindh, but at Partition found its way to Delhi and into Priya’s  care, and was sent back for repair to Shehnaz Ismail last year. The second shawl, which belonged to Shehnaz in Karachi, crossed borders and arrived in Delhi to be nurtured by Priya.

“These fragile, much-worn shawls, almost beyond repair, were delicately brought back to life by the rafoogars on either side. They hang side by side in this exhibition, a testimony to the persistence in nurturing relationships and the power of loving endurance inherent in the people of the subcontinent”, says Hashmi.

She says it is an honor to present the work of this distinguished group of artists. Several of them have exhibited their works at major public collections like The British Museum, London, UK and Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK (Waqas Khan); Museum of Modern Art and Guggenheim Museum, New York (Shilpa Gupta) and Asia Society, New York (Nilima Sheikh, Faiza Butt).

Many of them have held prestigious solo exhibitions at the British Council, Delhi, and Commonwealth Institute, London (Priya Ravish Mehra); documenta 14 and The Art Institute of Chicago (Nilima Sheikh) and upcoming at YARAT Contemporary Art Space, Baku (Shilpa Gupta).

The artists include finalists and recipients of notable awards like the Victoria & Albert’s Jameel Prize (Ghulam Mohammad, Faiza Butt), Sovereign Asian Art Prize, Hong Kong (Saba Qizilbash, Faiza Butt), Government of India Senior Fellowship Award (Nilima Sheikh) and some have even had work commissioned by the Alchemy, Bradford Museums and Galleries, UK, (Shehnaz Ismail).

— Aman Ki Asha

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