Rashid Rana: lifting the veil | art and culture | Hindustan Times
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Rashid Rana: lifting the veil

The youngest of five siblings born to a policeman and a homemaker in Lahore, Rashid Rana was always told that he should grow up and 'become someone big'. His father wanted him to become a doctor or an officer in the civil service or army.

art and culture Updated: Apr 01, 2012 01:42 IST
Riddhi Doshi

The youngest of five siblings born to a policeman and a homemaker in Lahore, Rashid Rana was always told that he should grow up and 'become someone big'. His father wanted him to become a doctor or an officer in the civil service or army.

But Rana began to fall in love with art in school. Yet art was not seen a profession, so he decided to pursue engineering because he was good at mathematics. When he found out about the National College of Art in Lahore he decided to pursue architecture or graphic design.

But he ended up in the art programme through a combination of accidents and a gut feeling about it despite the lack of knowledge that it could even be a profession. It was only towards the end of his studies at the art school, when his teachers included his work along with their own in a group show, that he became clear about pursuing art as a full-time profession.

Today, the 44-year-old is arguably the most important Pakistani artist of his generation - and one of the most important Asian artists - with his works shown in Paris, New York and Berlin, and represented by London's Lisson, which represents Anish Kapoor.

On April 9, Rana's show will open across two galleries in Mumbai, Chemould Prescott Road and Chatterjee & Lal, his first exhibition in the city in five years. On display will be a series of works in what is now his trademark style: large photo mosaics made up of scores of tiny, seeming unrelated or contradictory individual images. One of the most provocative examples of this technique is the six-part Veil series, first exhibited at London's prestigious Saatchi Gallery and Chatterjee & Lal in Mumbai in 2007. The work showed an anonymous figure dressed in a burkha, with this larger image made up of tiny, blurred pornographic stills of women, taken from the internet. By juxtaposing the two ideas, Rana critiqued negative stereotypes of women, both the sexual objectification inherent in pornography and the stereotypical image of women from the Islamic world constructed by the media.

The paradoxes and duality of a larger image and its constituent smaller images have dominated Rana's artistic practice for the past decade. "Today, every image, idea and truth - whether in ancient mythology or the news of the day - encompasses its opposite within itself. We live in a state of duality," says Rana. "My works are an effort to represent this complexity and transcend the bold divisions that people create in their perceptions."

Thus, in Mumbai this month, Rana will exhibit works such as the Language Series, three mosaic landscapes made up of tiny photographs taken by Rana over the past two years of all kinds of text present outdoors in Lahore, such as chalk messages on walls, banners, posters and signboards. "So much of cultural, social and political history is embedded in these texts," says Rana.

This will be Rana's fifth solo exhibition in India. His first-ever solo show was at the Nature Morte gallery in Delhi, in 2004. "I share a warm relationship with India," he says.

At auctions by leading houses such as Sotheby's and Christie's, Rana's works are usually sold alongside those of Indian artists, in the Indian art category. "I am more well-known in India than in Pakistan," says Rana.

Rana was, in fact, the star of the show at the prestigious India Art Fair held in Delhi in January. A massive photo-video mosaic, titled Translation Transliteration, occupied almost an entire wall at the entrance of the exhibition area.

Now married and the father of a three-year-old boy, Rana spends his time working on his art and teaching at Beaconhouse National University in Lahore, where he lives.

"I owe a lot to the Indian art fraternity too," he says. "If the legal system allowed it, I would love to teach here."