Saturday, May 18, 2013

Imran Qureshi's Roof Garden Commision at the Met - Review in the Financial Times

Common ground in a divided world

By Jan Dalley

Can art act as an ambassador? Can it span chasms of mutual mistrust and misunderstanding?

Imran Qureshi’s installation on the roof of New York’s Metropolitan Museum©Hyla Skopitz
Imran Qureshi’s installation on the roof of New York’s Metropolitan Museum
Can art act as an ambassador? Can it spin a web of connective tissue across chasms of mutual mistrust and misunderstanding? Should we expect it to? .....
........... Elsewhere in New York last week was the opening of an installation whose significance also echoes across a political chasm. Pakistani artist Imran Qureshi has covered the roof of the Metropolitan Museum with what look at first like shocking splashes of blood, the vermilion-spattered floor of an abattoir, the deadly-bright aftermath of a massacre. The Met has a lively programme of commissioned installations on the flat roof overlooking the treetops of Central Park and its ring of fiercely elegant skyscrapers – one of the greatest city-gardens in the world; rus in urbe.
Echoing that unique location, it is the garden tradition of the Mughals that is the powerful reference of Qureshi’s work here. Each of these sanguineous splodges, on closer inspection, grows an explosion of flowers, delicate misty petals painted directly on to the concrete in the neo-miniaturist tradition this artist has made his own.
It is magically beautiful – more so, even, in the aftermath of a Manhattan downpour that left most of the bloody blossoms gleaming through puddles. The title of the piece, “And How Many Rains Must Fall Before the Stains are Washed Clean”, took on an extra spin. You can’t tell whether the intricate petals and leaves are emerging from the redness like a slowly developing photograph, or whether they are gradually dissolving and disappearing into the brilliant sludge. You can’t stop looking.
Sheena Wagstaff, the installation’s curator and chairman of the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art, first encountered Qureshi’s work on a visit to Afghanistan. A student of the rigorous techniques of 16th- and 17th-century Islamic miniature painting, Qureshi makes meticulous, painted and gilded works with a contemporary twist: his 2006 “Moderate Enlightenment” series, disconcertingly and half tongue-in-cheek, gorgeously portrays friends and family members (sometimes in flip-flops or trainers, pulling off a T-shirt or holding an umbrella) within the formalised tradition.
And painted installations similar to the Met’s have drawn rapt attention in places as disparate as Oxford and Sharjah. It’s work in which eastern ornamentation and western abstraction melt easily into each other, to produce a powerfully distinct new mood that harnesses its own contradictions and makes a virtue of the crossplay of past and present.
Wagstaff is quick to realise the possible implications of the Met installation – “especially after Boston”, she tells me. But Qureshi himself, she says, was not to be swayed. In so much of his work – although there is no overt political statement-making – he is nudging us towards the delicate tissue of thought and beauty that links us, across cultures and across time, without ducking the punches that his imagery so elegantly delivers. A Pakistani in the heart of New York, an Islamic garden at the edge of Central Park: here is proper courage. ........  see the article/read more

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