Jhaveri Contemporary presents a new body of work by the Pakistani artist Ali Kazim at Art Basel Hong Kong. Best known for his enigmatic portraits and explorations of the human body, Kazim’s exhibition draws a primary inspiration from the landscape outside his home town of Lahore. Once part of the flourishing Indus Valley Civilization (circa 3,000 BCE to 1,500 BCE), the now desolate landscape is dotted with ancient mounds and strewn with terracotta shards from a distant past. Today it serves as a burial site for local communities.
Kazim engages the techniques of miniature painting as practised in South Asia from the 16th century onward to make large scale, monochromatic paintings that are akin to Chinese ink paintings. Labour intensive processes – ‘Siyah Qalam’ (Black Pen) and ‘Pardakht’ (stippling, pointillism) – are employed to make scrolls and screens that reference classical formats of East Asian art.
The presentation includes a large panel or scroll that maps the contours of the land, and a pair of medium-format watercolours that allow a closer observation of the shards that lie on its surface. A third element of the immersive installation is a group of cast objects, arranged on the floor, that seek to recreate the physicality of the terrain. Using rudimentary gas kilns, Kazim carefully shapes individual stones – some are smooth and worn, others are covered by patterns that recall arteries and veins. Kazim has embedded, in subtle yet unmistakable ways, the human presence into the landscape.
The display will also include a grid of small format works from Kazim’s ongoing series, ‘Storm’ and ‘Cloud’, that captures the constantly changing weather patterns of the Punjab. Several pieces in this series are made using dry pigment on mylar. The complete absence of visible brushstrokes captures, paradoxically, the intense ‘presentness’ of the region’s weather, with its rapid movement and fluctuations. The exquisite delicacy of these works recall the stylized scrolling bands that originated in Chinese art and were widely used to represent clouds in Persian, Ottoman and Mughal painting. They are also an homage to cloud paintings, from Constable to Richter, and invoke the artist’s involvement with structure, movement and mutability.
Taken in whole, this body of work draws our particular attention to the legacies of an ancient syncretic culture, long predating the arrival of Islam. And yet Kazim also incorporates the techniques and motifs used in Islamic art over a wide range of time and geography. As such, the oeuvre also emerges to have a subtle political resonance, the complex nature and non-monolithic heritage of what is now the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.