Aicon Gallery is proud to present From Not Everyone’s Heaven, a major new solo exhibition by Karachi-based artist Adeela Suleman. The exhibition hinges on a new body of work made up of meticulously painted landscapes and battle scenes, either tinged or awash with blood, framed within or painted directly on objects such as hand-carved window frames and decorative plates found by Suleman in the bazaars of Karachi, Pakistan. The works address the ways in which the continuous and escalating cycle of violence and unrest plaguing Pakistan is not only leaving its mark on the awareness and memories of individuals, but has begun seeping into the very spaces and landscapes of its citizens’ daily experience and collective consciousness.
Over a career now spanning nearly 20 years, Adeela Suleman has returned again and again to the juxtaposition of nature and violence. The recurring motif is fitting given the country in which Suleman lives and works. Pakistan plays host to some of the most breathtakingly beautiful natural landscapes in the world, yet with each passing year, the world has also grown increasingly familiar with the country’s darker side, in which religious and sectarian divides have led to ever increasingly horrific scenes of violence and bloodshed. As the outside world looks on in horror at the escalating violence and tragedy, the residents of Karachi, Lahore and the rural countryside have begun to sink into a sort of necessity of acceptance of the chaos that has become a tragic part of daily life. This situation in which one becomes numb to the constant threat of violence simply in order to continue to live a semblance of a normal life, is a theme often central to Suleman’s work and is reflected in the title of the macabre and haunting video Don't Despair, Not Even Over the Fact that You Don't Despair, in which one can hardly fathom the casual horror unfolding in front of us.
This seemingly inherent natural state of violence perhaps manifests itself most powerfully in Suleman’s new series of works Not Everyone’s Heaven. In these pieces, ornately hand-carved window frames open onto scenes of stunningly beautiful landscapes from Pakistan’s Northern provinces, which unfortunately have seen some of the most appalling acts of terror and violence over the past 10 years. Thus, Suleman’s landscapes have become tinged with blood and populated by historically sourced warriors doing battle, undeterred by the intense beauty which surrounds them. The paring of these landscapes with elements of blood and violence, sees Suleman posing a difficult question that has likely become all too common to many living amidst the increasing tensions and instabilities of South Asia and the Middle East. That being, whether continuous violence throughout history is as natural a part of the human condition as the physical world that surround us.
This seemingly natural condition of violence and conflict finds further resonance in the figures found doing battle in Suleman’s landscapes or lying prone and bloody upon her ornate plates. These figures, painted in the miniaturist tradition, seem to arise from both deep history, i.e. crusaders and medieval Islamic warriors, as well as from contemporary images of the carnage and aftermath of contemporary scenes of terror and violence. The fact that it is often impossible to tell who is fighting who, who is on which side, or indeed when these scenes might be taking place, points once again to the ubiquity of violent conflict that stretches across our entire shared history as a species and shows no signs of disappearing even in the so called modern and civilized societies of today.
In another set of works, Suleman has painted a similar series of stunningly pristine vistas of the natural beauty of Northern Pakistan, including the Swat Valley and Kashmir, directly onto a set of sharpened weighty meat cleavers. The heft, menace and purpose of these objects once again belies the ominous underpinnings of the beautiful landscapes of mountains, lakes, and sky painted upon them in the sense that these majestic areas often play host to some of the most shocking violence in the whole of South Asia. Paired with Suleman’s plates, covered in scenes of mass carnage, death and decapitation, either from historical or contemporary sources, these works pose yet another uncomfortable supposition by linking the communal pleasure of preparing and consuming food with the sinister pleasure certain groups seem to derive from sowing violence and chaos throughout the ages. Throughout the exhibition, Suleman’s works tread upon this knife-edge between natural beauty and ever-present violence and chaos that seem to be a permanent fixture of our shared humanity, transcending regions, cultures, religions, and history itself.
Adeela Suleman studied Sculpture at the Indus Valley School of Art and completed a Master’s degree in International Relations from the University of Karachi. She is currently the Coordinator of Vasl Artists’ Collective in Karachi, in addition to being the Coordinator of the Fine Art Department at Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture. Suleman has participated extensively with group and solo exhibitions worldwide, including An Atlas of Mirrors - Singapore Biennale at the Singapore Art Museum, Phantoms of Asia at the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, the 2013 Asian Art Biennial at the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Art, Hanging Fire – Contemporary Art from Pakistan at The Asia Society, New York; Gallery Rohtas 2, Lahore; Canvas Gallery, Karachi; Gandhara Art Space, Karachi; Alberto Peola Gallery, Torino; Aicon Gallery, New York; and, the International Exhibition of Contemporary Art, Bologna, Italy (2008). Reviews and features of work appear in Artforum and the New York Times, among other publications. The artist lives and works in Karachi, Pakistan.