The works by the five artists in Windows are based on a deep awareness of modernist architecture and design. Anwar Jalal Shemza (b. 1928), Simryn Gill (b. 1959), Lubna Chowdhary (b. 1964), Seher Shah (b. 1975), and Ayesha Singh (b. 1990), have lived and worked internationally; their careers span generations. Brought together, their work in diverse media resonates with each others’ in many ways, and illuminates how the presence—and memory—of built form has continued to shape and disturb personal and collective imagination.
South and Southeast Asia have for millennia been home to distinctive historic architectures, from the humble to the spectacular. The colonial era ushered in modern institutions and many new types of built forms in the region. During the twentieth century, the International Style of modern architecture and design was highly influential and pervasive.
The overwhelming presence of modern architecture is our lives today—even in its nondescript and humdrum forms—has been severally consequential. For one, the premodern past and lived memories do not disappear in the geometric grid of modernist rationality—rather, they acquire new intensities and haunt the contemporary imagination. For another, informality of built form continues to proliferate in the cities of South and Southeast Asia, some of which are now the largest urban centers in the world; built form is often inhabited in unexpected ways that escape rational planning. Finally, modern architecture is inevitably tropicalized in the region, which creates an intuitive sense of one’s being part of a larger ecology.
In all these ways, built structures bear the potential to give new inspirations to the imagination, as it shuttles between historic forms, modernist purity, and informal reuse—and as it also mines familial and childhood memories that have inhabited these spaces.