Hypnotic patterns, embroideries made up of thousands of stiches, and armies of razor-sharp pins. This autumn the National Gallery of Denmark invites children and families to explore what happens when different worlds meet and merge in the strange and wondrous works created by Pakistani contemporary artist Aisha Khalid.
On one side we find a beautifully ornamented carpet. On the other we find a surface spiked by thousands of razor-sharp needles. From 7 October 2016 to 19 February 2017, children and families are invited to explore an exhibition created by Pakistani artist Aisha Khalid especially for SMK. Inspired by Sufism, an Islamic vein of mysticism, she homes in on issues such as women’s roles, identity, power structures and Western preconceptions about Pakistan.
Aisha Khalid, born in 1972, lives and works in Lahore, Pakistan with her husband and children.
Khalid is a trained miniature painter, having studied at the academy of fine arts in Lahore and at Rijksakademiet in Amsterdam. She now stands among the leading contemporary artists in Pakistan. Khalid is part of the first generation of artists who have challenged the thousand-year-old miniature tradition since the early 1990s.
Unlike the miniature painters of the past, who were taught to depict royal and mythical subjects to perfection, the first generation of the “neo-miniature” genre challenge the formal language of miniature painting in its scale, symbolism, its use of materials and colours, and by commenting on current political and social themes.
Burka-clad figures and dragon-like beings In the centre of the exhibition is the work Two Worlds as One, which comprises two large, woven carpets, each measuring 1.2 x 4.5 metres. If we look at the carpets from one side, they appear as luxurious rugs teeming with beautiful golden and silver patterns – and if you move in close you can see a small man, birds, trees and dragon-like figures.
As you move around the carpets you become acutely aware that everything in life has more than one side. The exact opposite of what you think you see can lurk right below the surface. The eerie can emerge in safe and familiar surroundings. For on the back of these carpets, which were made especially for this exhibition, an army of sharp pins protrude.
The exhibition also allows children and families to explore a range of paintings which at first glance look like patterns that continue indefinitely, reproduced with digital accuracy. But if you pause and take a closer look you will find something hidden within the detailed ornamental patterns: different variations on camouflaged burka-clad figures and holes leading into another world.
Many paths lead into Khalid’s art – and many worlds are unfolded in the Pakistani artist’s hypnotising and painstakingly executed works. By challenging the thousand-year-old tradition of miniature painting, Khalid creates works that are full of stories for adults and children alike.
Surrounded by patterns that flicker before our eyes, and by embroideries made out of thousands of stitches and sharp needles, children and their adult carers can explore the concept of contrasts – and what the world looks like when you dance or spin around your own axis until you grow dizzy. For older children and adults Khalid’s works can launch conversations about language, identity and themes such as war and terror. About who we are and how we define each other.
Khalid’s works spring from the traditions and techniques of miniature painting. However, her choice of subject matter is far removed from tradition. Miniature painting dates back thousands of years and was originally used to depict royal families and scenes from Hindu and Muslim mythology in books and manuscripts. Now, Khalid challenges miniature painting by addressing contemporary issues in her works – issues concerned with what is happening to and around her.
Khalid’s works reflect her experiences in Pakistan and in the Western world alike. She contemplates encounters between the two worlds in her art. Taking her starting point in miniature painting and Pakistani traditions of patterns and ornamentation, she attacks social and political structures, thereby creating works that are simultaneously poetic and packed with political punches.