Imran Qureshi (*1972) has repositioned the limited conventions of traditional miniature painting—an art form that spent centuries dealing with courtly themes—and developed it further, turning it into an expressive medium with an individual choreography, as well as a new vocabulary of its own. In the process, the Pakistani artist, who was schooled in classical miniature painting, combines traditional motifs, symbolism, and ornamentation from the Moghul tradition (which experienced its apex in the north of the Indian subcontinent during the 16th and 17th centuries) with conceptual thought and contemporary abstract painting.
In the 1990s Qureshi shifted away from the paper and patterns of miniature painting and began transposing his paintings to larger formats and site-specific installations. As he did this, his artistic practice increasing transformed into a continual process of performance in architectural and landscape spaces. His work is strongly marked by the reality that surrounds him in Pakistan and by current social themes, as well as by the confrontation with global themes, such as the relationship between the western and the Muslim world; religion, gender roles, terrorism, and the politics of war form a subtle political discourse in his works of art.
One of his most haunting works is Blessings upon the Land of My Love in Bait Al Serkal, Sharjah (2011)—a “bloody landscape” of disturbing beauty. During the Sharjah Biennial the inner courtyard of a former hospital became a site for his three-dimensional artistic intervention. The courtyard seems to bleed. Streams of vermillion leak like blood out of the stones, and everywhere, the ground is covered with spattered red paint. In the middle of the courtyard is a drain, down which all of the red fluid wastefully runs. In between twine soft Basohli paintings, like blossoms of hope. Free of any kind of figuration, the work is like a larger-than-lifesized painting, and is a site of destruction, war, and death, but it is also perceived by life, and through this paradox it creates many poetical and political references to the present day around the world. For Qureshi a suicide attack in his home town of Lahore was a crucial experience, out of which he created his large work of art, You Who Are My Love and My Life’s Enemy Too. This piece was further developed in the monumental Sharjah work, and once again in Sydney in 2012.
Qureshi himself divides his body of work into three groups: “One consists of traditionally worked, small-format miniature paintings. The themes are contemporary, but the method I use to paint them is very, very traditional.” He disturbs the sublime, classical impression made by his paintings with the insignia of uniform international culture, as in the series Moderate Enlightenment. Global reality has crept into the idylls: his figures are framed in an old-fashioned, artistic manner, with tender sprigs of grass, branches twining decoratively through the image, and climbing bushes and trees, but his protagonists carry messenger bags, and wear cargo shorts and camouflage t-shirts, and blow bubbles in the air. Then there are Qureshi’s abstract works, which are “created by breaking through the boundaries of traditional painting,” and are much more open. “I play with proportions and limitations,” said the artist in an interview, “and introduce additional gestures and objects.” Abstraction first appeared in his work Love Story, and in the Missile series, which is about the arms race between India and Pakistan. Symbols, geometrical forms, and other abstract elements break open the traditional patterns of miniature painting.
As one of the most important representatives of the Pakistani art scene, the Deutsche Bank has named Imran Qureshi “Artist of the Year” for 2013. The selection was made upon the recommendation of the Deutsche Bank Global Art Advisory Council, whose members include Okwui Enwezor, Hou Hanru, Udo Kittelmann, and Victoria Noorthoorn.
March 13, 2013 Caroline Schilling