'Hanging Fire: Contemporary Art From Pakistan' at NYC's Asia Society Museum

New York City's Asia Society Museum shows the first museum show of contemporary art from Pakistan in the United States. It provides an interesting overview.   There are 55 works by 15 artists - most of them from the urban centers of Karachi and Lahore.   I know most of the artists in the show from my time as a visiting professor at the National College of Arts in Lahore back in 1997. Pakistan has a little-known contemporary art scene that flourished in the last 20 years.   The curator of the show, Salima Hashimi, says 'Pakistan is not an easy society: There is a lack of democratic norms and a great deal of violence

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. This show does not so much focus on the political issues, rather then show the energy and richness of the Pakistani art scene.  
(c) Zahoor ul Akhlaq: 'A Visit to the Inner Sanctum 4', 1996. Acrylic on canvas. H. 83 x W. 56 x D. 4 in. (210.8 x 142.2 x 10.2 cm). Collection of Nurjahan Akhlaq and Sheherezade Alam. Image courtesy of Richard Seck


The show begins with one of the last major works by Zahoor ul Akhlaq, considered the founder of modernism in Pakistan, who was tragically murdered in 1999.


I remember Zahoor ul Akhlaq back in 1997: He did the opening speech of my exhibition at the Karachi School of Arts. It was less a lecture rather than an incendiary proclamation of his view of art. He said that abstract expressionism is rooted in Islamic calligraphy and that is why it is part of the Islamic tradition. He was acclaimed by more than 700 people like a pop star - and he really was one.


(c) Huma Mulji: 'High Rise: Lake City Drive', 2008. Taxidermic water buffalo, sheet metal, fiberglass, henna, and Duco paint. Approx. H. 137 7/8 x W. 82 7/8 x D. 26 7/8 in. (350 x 210 x 68 cm). Collection of the artist. Image courtesy of the artist


An opening of a show in Pakistan is something completely different to New York City: I was quite astonished that an opening there starts as early as 11.00 a.m. and lasts until dawn. There is no artificial light except the headlights of the cars in the night, it is quite dark with some open fire here and there. So in 1997, there was no chance to perform public activities except at daytime.


For a European artist doing a workshop for young people in a moderate Islamic country also means to answer questions about Western culture and life style like pop music and sexual promiscuity.


While staying at Salima Hashmi's house I learned a lot about the power of Pakistani artists with their Indian and Islamic background, about miniature painting and calligraphy.


In the New York show I liked the works by Adeela Suleman and Huma Mulji the best.


The current public interest in contemporary art from the Indian subcontinent and the Middle East now also moves the art world's focus to Paktistan's art scene. I think it is overdue to show these exciting works also here in NYC!


by Hermann Kremsmayer

Contemporary painter, now based in Vienna, Austria.


Herman Kremsmayer (c) N. Korab


'Hanging Fire: Contemporary Art from Pakistan' at New York City's Asia Society Museum


Through January, 3 2010



Negar Ahkami: 'The Source', acrylic and glitter on gessoed panel, 2009 (c) Negar Ahkami. Courtesy Leila Taghinia-Milani Heller Gallery


John, 19-11-09 12:43
Yes, I think it is really time to discover art from non-western countries!

Chinese artists made the frist step.

Now let's see what Pakistani and Indian artists can tell us about the world.
Donna, 23-11-09 00:09
I don't know: 2 years ago it was all about art from China.

Now it is all about Indian, Iranian & Middle East art.

What can they really tell me (through art) about my life here in NYC??
simon, 18-12-18 08:41
The best thing is that your blog really informative thanks for your great information!


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