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Art from Pakistan

There’s growing interest in contemporary art from across the border. Riddhi Doshi writes.

art and culture Updated: Apr 07, 2012 23:59 IST
Riddhi Doshi

Saira Ansari, 30, is looking forward to April 21, when she will hold her first international solo exhibition, at gallery Experimenter in Kolkata. A conceptual artist, the Lahore native will be displaying text on wall, a light sculpture, some sketches, and three journals featuring digital photographs.

In conceptual art, the idea takes precedence over the medium — which could be a blog, an art journal or anything else. Some of her works, for instance, comprise digital prints, drawings and images that are visual interpretations of her dreams. The wall texts are pieces of conversation with the self.

“At art college, professors and seniors would warn me that there is no scope for such art in Pakistan,” says Ansari, referring to her time at National College of Arts Lahore.

The Pakistani art market is very small and conservative, and favours miniatures and conventional landscapes. As a result, “there aren’t any spaces in Pakistan that showcase non-commercial work”, says Ansari.

In India, things are different, she adds. “Galleries such as Experimenter provide an intellectual space for conceptual, non-commercial art,” she says. “They allow viewers to chew through content at their own pace, and allow artists to engage with younger audiences.” Ansari first showed her work in India at last year’s India Art Fair in New Delhi. A few months later, Indian curator Deeksha Naath included her work in a show titled Step Across This Line, an exhibition of contemporary art from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, held at Asia House in London.

“It’s an absolute delight and privilege to work with Indian art professionals as they understand and respect the work dynamic,” says Ansari.

This year, four other exhibitions — one each in Mumbai and Delhi and two in Kolkata — will showcase work by Pakistani artists, including a six-week exhibition of celebrated artist Rashid Rana’s works that opens simultaneously at Mumbai’s Chemould Prescott Road and Chatterjee & Lal galleries on Monday. This marks a resurgence of Indian interest in Pakistani contemporary art — which had peaked in the boom period (2007-08), when sales dramatically increased. At that point, about 70% of Pakistani art was bought by NRIs, mainly in galleries abroad, says Prateek Raja, owner of Kolkata’s Experimenter gallery.