March Issue 2013
New Age Oeuvre
Rashid Rana’s solo retrospective, Labyrinths of Reflections: The Art of Rashid Rana 1992 – 2002 co-curated by Naazish Attaullah, Nasreen Askari and Hameed Haroon at the Mohatta Palace Museum, and inaugurated this February, will run for a year and is a phenomenal display of two decades of the artist’s work in several mediums — painting, the large and small scale photo mosaic, collage, sculptural installation and video installation. It is significant to mention that Rana, a ‘90s graduate of the National College of Arts in Lahore, a student of the late Zahoor ul Akhlaque, and now head of the Department of Fine Arts at the Beaconhouse National University — a truly home-bred talent — has created waves in the global art world for a few years now and is someone Pakistanis can be proud to talk about.
At the Mohatta Palace, one’s senses are regaled by a series of multi-dimensional images, the experience is enhanced from room to room, and the ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ in one’s head don’t lessen till you walk out from this maze of images into the sunshine outside. What is immediately obvious is that the scope of the artist’s work is not local or regional, but of global significance, with messages transcending borders and differences. I’m sure an art-lover from China would feel the same sense of serenity and horror as he observes the juxtaposed symbolism in Rana’s ‘Red Carpet’ series — an elegant, classic, symmetrical carpet at the macro scale, made up of tiny images of gore, blood and violence — inspired by political mayhem symbolic of Pakistan’s contemporary political upheaval, in this case the attack on Benazir Bhutto’s convoy in Karachi in 2007. Even if a viewer is unaware of the genesis of Rana’s works, the concept is mind-boggling and the execution unparalleled. Finally, the size of the work, displayed so beautifully at the museum, makes one want to sit down immediately on the bench provided and absorb the work slowly.
Similarly, Rana’s massive video installation ‘Anatomy Lesson;’ inspired by 16th century Italian artist Carravagio’s ‘Judith Beheading Holofernes,’ it is made up of numerous moving micro images of acts of violence and images of gore and has a universal message — of good versus evil, courage versus fear. The macro image shows the actual moment when Judith decapitates the Assyrian general Holofernes with a sword, and Rana’s new age revival of this classic painting takes it to another level.
Rana’s ingenious depiction of blood and gore in several works — where the whole and the parts present a divergent perspective — roots his themes in the contemporary dysfunction of modern-day Pakistan. To the everyday viewer, Rana’s art connotes political analysis, a comment on the social condition.
The exhibition is divided into 11 galleries on the ground floor and first floor of the museum and is a journey into a labyrinth of Rashid Rana’s repertoire; from his early work when he explored the grid as a formal pictorial device (‘Flowers and Flowers’), to digital mosaic portraits (‘I Love Miniatures’), to reconfiguring and reassembling a spliced macro image (‘Notions of Narration’), and so on. As one’s senses are regaled by room after room of dramatic representations, at times the small outweighs the large, and then in an immediate about-turn, the visual macro image overrides the mini pixelated images and the paradox settles gently in one’s head. You walk up close and walk back in awe and therein lies the power of Rana’s work; he creates a unique spatial relationship with the viewer and his artwork.
Rana’s ingenious depiction of blood and gore in several works — where the whole and the parts present a divergent perspective — roots his themes in the contemporary dysfunction of modern-day Pakistan. To the everyday viewer, Rana’s art connotes political analysis, a comment on the social condition. It tears apart the polite layers of concealment, to come to the very flesh of the matter — literally. ‘I Do Not Feel Immortal,’ a series of 28 panels explicitly show organs and body parts; the whole image is that of slaughtered meat on a platter. This resonates with the artist’s statement that humans are beset with a two-dimensional duality, a contradiction within and what appears on the outside. This duality can also permeate our perception of images, and this two-dimensional trajectory underpins the artist’s practice so that often things are not what they appear. Rana’s iconic three-dimensional installation ‘Desperately Seeking Paradise’ is a stand-out work — a gridded cube made of stainless steel and wooded glass in which the square faces or sides are layered with photographic imagery to form the view of a skyline and city from one direction, a mirrored view from another, and closer up, tiny micro images reveal pictures of buildings and streets in slums. Similarly a series of sculptures, ‘Books I,’ ‘Books II,’ ‘Courier Package’ and ‘The Step,’ three-dimensional aluminium cubes with a pixelated images confound the viewer’s perception of reality and illusion.
Several of his pieces imbibe from contemporary Pakistani popular culture: hoardings, posters and advertisements on Lahore’s streets, such as the ‘Language II, III, V and VII’ series in which the sheer volume of images collected by the artist is mind-boggling.
Labyrinths of Reflection: The Art of Rashid Rana 1992 — 2012 is a not-to-be-missed event and a salute to the artist and his craft. Not only are the 73 pieces on display a visual commentary on the times we live in, they are ambassadors of truth for the rest of the world.
The writer is a former assistant editor at Newsline