Iftikhar Dadi and Elizabeth Dadi: Epic Ecologies
10 December – 9 January 2016
Iftikhar Dadi and Elizabeth Dadi’s collaborative art practice can be located at the intersections of conceptual art and pop art with (a broadly inclusive vision of) popular culture. The artists have created a diverse body of work that embodies itself in a wide spectrum of deployed materials. But certain questions and preoccupations act as continuities. For example: If we take the saturation of media in the contemporary world as a given, what are the effects—competing and paradoxical effects even—of this unprecedented ‘assault’ on our intellectual and perceptual faculties? Another initiating point is the distortions created by official narratives—the stories about ourselves and our histories that we are encouraged or compelled to believe by pervasive dominant forces. What alternatives exist to these narratives, how can they be contested? And how can the very stuff of art, its materiality, be used with conceptual rigour to create new forms of beauty? These themes and their manifestations are on display in Epic Ecologies, which showcases representative work from three series, each of which is an attempt to place a specific set of cultural representations in contexts dense with associative and disruptive meanings.
In the Urdu Film Series, which ‘bases’ itself in Lollywood, luxuriant colours threaten to dissolve into faded hues, and the rectangular-shaped orthodoxy of the cinema hall is submerged within the scanning movements of an ovalized TV screen. Images of ambiguous power, and distinct media, are configured to evoke an experience of South Asia that is flickering and hallucinatory. Film, this time in its narrative aspect, is central to They Made History as well. The series interrogates the Great Man (or, occasionally, Woman) theory of history—a theory which holds that the actions of a few individuals determine the progress of civilization itself. Diverse non-Western figures, as imagined by Hollywood, are lit up as icons against conventional landscapes or invented backgrounds—as if to detach the historical actor from the grand (not to say grandiose) narrative in which he or she has been placed by the prescriptive formulae of society and the box-office. Nation-states use formulae too, a variety of symbols, in order to express their uniqueness—specific flowers for (curious) example. The Efflorescence series focuses on the notionally national flowers of politically contested regions. Inspired by popular commercial signage and created as large neon and incandescent works in metal, the works confound expectations of what floral representation ‘should’ look like—they jump scale by their size, and their industrial artifice and graphical form are the opposite of the delicate and the natural. As such, they acknowledge a certain arbitrariness in the way that institutions try to establish identity.
Epic—grand and heroic, impressive in scope, an embodiment of how people imaginatively conceive their own history. Ecologies—the multiple relationships between living things and their environment. Or so the dictionaries tell us. And then this exhibition, Epic Ecologies, in which Iftikhar Dadi and Elizabeth Dadi show us how grandeur is made and unmade, how our habitats, mental and physical, are anything but static, and how the two, in dynamic dialogue, can present us with fresh ways to examine and enliven both.
Iftikhar Dadi and Elizabeth Dadi have collaborated in their art practice for two decades. Their work investigates the salience of popular media in the construction of memory, borders and identity in contemporary globalization, and the potential of creative resilience in urban informalities. Their projects are frequently realized in large-scale installations and have been exhibited at the 24th Bienal de São Paulo, Brazil; Third Asia-Pacific Triennial, Brisbane, Australia; Liverpool Biennial, Tate Liverpool; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; Miami Art Museum; Queens Museum of Art, New York; and Whitechapel Gallery, London.
Iftikhar Dadi received his Ph.D. from Cornell University. He is an associate professor at Cornell in the Department of History of Art, and also served as chair of the Department of Art (2010–14). Elizabeth Dadi received her B.F.A. from San Francisco Art Institute.
Iftikhar Dadi is the author of Modernism and the Art of Muslim South Asia (University of North Carolina Press, 2010). He has edited Anwar Jalal Shemza (Ridinghouse, 2015); co-edited Lines of Control: Partition as a Productive Space (with Hammad Nasar) (Herbert F Johnson Museum of Art, 2012); and co-edited Unpacking Europe: Towards a Critical Reading (Salah Hassan) (NAi Publishers, 2001). Recent essays include: “Calligraphic Abstraction,” in The Companion to Islamic Art and Architecture, ed. Finbarr Barry Flood and Gulru Necipoglu (Blackwell) [Forthcoming]; “The Middle East And South Asia: Aesthetic Mobilities,” in Imperfect Chronology: Arab Art from the Modern to the Contemporary Works from the Barjeel Art Collection, ed. Omar Kholeif (Prestel, 2015); “Mapping Asia,” Yishu: Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art 13, no. 6 (2014); “Transaesthetics in the Art of Shirin Neshat,” in The Migrant’s Time: Art, Dispersal & Difference, ed. Saloni Mathur (Clark Institute and Yale University Press, 2011); “Ibrahim El-Salahi and Calligraphic Modernism in a Comparative Perspective,” South Atlantic Quarterly 109, No. 3 (2010); “Registering Crisis: Ethnicity in Pakistani Cinema of the 1960s and 70s,” in Beyond Crisis: A Critical Second Look at Pakistan, ed. Naveeda Khan (Routledge, 2009); “Curating South Asia,” Guggenheim UBS Map, 2012 (online).
Curatorial projects include Lines of Control: Partition as a Productive Space (with Hammad Nasar and Nada Raza) at Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University (2012), & Nasher Museum, Duke University (2013-14); and Unpacking Europe (with Salah Hassan) at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam (2001-2002).
Iftikhar Dadi is a recipient of The Creative Capital | Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant Program (2015).