An artist tracks all terrorist attacks in Pakistan, then conceives an exhibition and performance

Sabrina Amrani
Dec 10, 2016 11:24AM

On 16 December 2014, seven gunmen conducted a terrorist attack on a public school in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. They entered the school and opened fire on school staff and children, killing 141 people, including 132 schoolchildren -between eight and eighteen years of age- leaving behind fear and hopelessness and a void unable to be filled or consoled.

This tragedy prompted in Ayesha Jatoi the strain of thought that conceived Tomorrow, the second solo exhibition of the artist in Sabrina Amrani gallery, tracking and archiving all the attacks to public spaces in Pakistan, until the attack that occurred on 27th March 2016, on families in a public park during a Sunday, killing 75 people and injuring hundreds.

In Tomorrow the artist poses a question to the audience, which is bi-ficated along the open pages of a book, as in the Illuminated Manuscripts’ open pages, that originally housed an image and a text, facing each other in dialogue, in disagreement; in a diptych. Trained in miniature painting, Jatoi has a long standing obsession with the Book and the relationship with Image and Text. A training in such a manual skill based medium often poses questions of the relevance of working in such traditional modes in the present day. An Illuminated Manuscript was often a historical document, archiving the times; Ayesha attempts through this series of work to archive this events in a similar way the Illuminated Manuscripts did.

The exhibition opens with the works Untitled 1-5 (2016) with a series of dates, stamped on paper. These are the dates of terrorist attacks in Pakistan, where the artist lives and works. In those cases where dates are repeated, two or three attacks in the same day are represented. The target of these attacks are places as innocuous as schools, hospitals, courts, marketplaces, parks, etc. This series is completed with the diptych Places & Total (2016), naming the targets and total of casualties also stamped on paper.

Jatoi chooses some of these targets and paints them in the painstaking Mughal tradition “siya Kalam” technique into the miniatures School (2016), Court (2016), Mosque (2016), Bus (2016), Market (2016), elevating the attacks to documented historical events. As in her similar previous series of studies of Miniature Paintings, she removes the details: “the ornamentation”, the blood and gore, the bodies; in order to study only the division of space within the frame, in an attempt to deconstruct the senseless rampage.

The exhibition is completed with a performance by Ayesha at the opening of the show, ten years after her last performance titled “Clothesline”, that has been recently renacted in the 11th Shanghay Biennial (China). In this new action, a big mound of white clothes encounters the audience. The presence of the artist is still not noticed until the pile begins to disappear slowly, revealing the artist behind the mound taking one piece of cloth at a time from the mound; and folding and stacking all of them in the gallery space. The clothes are of all sizes and shapes; from the old, young, male and female, but they are all white: The color of mourning in Pakistan, that is worn to funerals. This performance is an act of putting away the remnants of love, of longing; trying to make sense of the senseless: Of what has been lost.

In a way this broader idea of "loss" takes us back to Jatoi’s musings with the manuscript and miniature: also lamenting the loss of tradition, of the book, the presence of the hand, of the uncertainty of what tomorrow will hold.

Sabrina Amrani