One of Shezad Dawood’s earliest neon creations is called Epiphany (2003): eight wall-mounted letters that spell out the word “tandoori.” Epiphany is more than a cursory nod to the London-based artist’s Indian and Pakistani roots; it marks the beginning of a critical examination of his identity through neon. In 2007, Dawood created a series of sculptures that cast some of the 99 names of Allah in neon. Each piece, rendered in traditional script, is bundled in a clear box, along with some tumbleweed, and presented atop its own aluminum plinth. Works like The Judge, The Bestower, The Protector, and The Majestic all strive to represent divinity, or at least suggest it.
Since then, Dawood’s neon experiments have grown even more elaborate. The neon sculpture Wrathful Activity, Fierce Energy (2018)—accompanied by a virtual-reality experience in which viewers travel through a fictional world that includes the mythical Himalayan Hotel and a monastery—was part of an exhibition that envisioned a future of the Indian subcontinent. By examining religious imagery through a sci-fi lens, Dawood imagines a world where divinity and traditionalism and technology and innovation not only coexist, but are entwined.