'The Rising Tide: New Direction in Art From Pakistan'

Pakistan’s Palette of Blood and Tears
By Jane Perlez, New York Times, December 17, 2010

KARACHI, Pakistan — In this chaotic city of 18 million people, an exhibition of works by Pakistan’s most significant contemporary artists shows just how imbued with violence daily life here is: on the street, in the air and in the debate about the future course of the nation.

Installed in the elegant rooms of the Mohatta Palace Museum, a confection of Mughal architecture in pink stone, the exhibition, “The Rising Tide: New Direction in Art From Pakistan,” includes more than 40 canvases, videos, installations, mobiles and sculptures made in the past 20 years. Its curator, the feminist sculptor and painter Naiza Khan, said her aim was to show the coming of age of Pakistani art, which blossomed when censorship was lifted after the death of the American-backed Islamic dictator Gen. Zia ul-Haq.

Violence was not an intended theme. “I wanted the works to reflect the many strands of the urban condition,” Ms. Khan said in her light-filled studio in an upscale neighborhood here.

But the corrosive impact of Pakistan’s struggle with Islamic militants, its tortured relationship with the United States and the effects of an all-powerful military pervade the show.

The artist Abdullah Syed, for example, assembled a fleet of drones — the pilotless American aircraft that fire missiles at militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas — constructed from the blades of box cutters, the very instruments used by some of the 9/11 attackers. They float on wires just above the viewer’s head, the silvery blades shimmering menacingly in bright light.

A second fleet of drones is constructed from dollar bills folded into the shape of the planes and stapled together in circular patterns that resemble those of an oriental carpet. Called the “Flying Rug,” the paper fleet casts an ominous shadow on a nearby wall.

Mr. Syed, one of several artists in the show pursuing a career abroad, teaches at the University of New South Wales in Australia. “I’m always navigating ideas between the West and here,” he said, perched on a ladder as he hung his killer fleets. The “Flying Rug” takes sides: “I’m saying, ‘To hell with Uncle Sam.’ ”

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