After many years, the Indian cricket team was in Pakistan in 2004 and Rashid Rana was really hoping for a Pakistani victory. It wasn’t a simple case of rooting for his own country though—he was worried about how the visiting Indian spectators would be treated by Pakistanis if India won. When the final was being played at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore, Rana was not too far away, busy editing one of his video works as he kept tabs on the score.
“It proved to be similar to a Bollywood film ending,” he recalls. “You have this tension throughout the film and in the end, everyone is happy. India won and Pakistani spectators hugged them (the Indians). It was too good to be true.”
At Sirpur House in Gurgaon—which houses the Devi Art Foundation—Rana narrates this parable to underscore the importance of people-to-people contact between the two neighbours. He is in town to curate Resemble Reassemble, a group show of contemporary art from Pakistan that features works by 45 artists from the Anupam and Lekha Poddar collection. “Had it not been for the relaxation of the visa policy back in 2003-04, which tempted me to come and meet Indian friends...some of the things that I am doing now would not have been possible,” he says.
Rana is among Pakistan’s leading contemporary artists and his works have made him famous internationally. He is perhaps best known for his signature photomontages, where an image is constructed out of thousands of tiny “pixels” of images, closer inspection of which can often be an unsettling experience. The traditional burqa-clad woman’s head, for instance, has been fashioned out of thousands of images taken from hard-core pornographic films; and an exquisite Persian carpet has been similarly created from less edifying images taken at slaughterhouses. He has also made portraits of Bollywood stars such as Salman Khan and Hrithik Roshan from tiny photos of men taken on the streets of Lahore.
At home: Rana at the Devi Art Foundation in Gurgaon. Madhu Kapparath/Mint
Rana acknowledges the role Indian patrons and galleries have played in making his career stand out as an example of what’s possible when national boundaries aren’t viewed as barriers. “India in a way symbolically became a home gallery for me,” he says. “The galleries which presented me internationally were Indian galleries... It was all a very pleasant surprise.” He says he dreams of a future in which the subcontinent will be a confederation of states, like the European Union is today.
This aversion to hard nationalism extends to his artistic concerns and Rana admits that he was confronted with a dilemma when asked to curate this show. Group shows of artists from a country can serve as a helpful introduction to a particular artistic tradition but after a while they can be restrictive. “The viewfinder is smaller,” is how he puts it. “People are only looking at it from that small hole.”
To “expand the viewfinder” in this instance, Rana says he has made the viewing a “linear experience”. “I forgot about classification and took one work. And the next followed because of some visual connection,” he says, admitting that this connection could be “superficial at times”. The works placed next to each other could have similar colours or just similar sounding titles.
“I am going to use a funny analogy,” Rana says about the exhibition. “It dissembles and reassembles, just like a Transformer.” The reference to the cartoon action robots which morph and change shapes is apt: The works are all made in the decade that has just gone by—like Rana’s works, the show reflects a young, forward looking and often iconoclastic and unafraid sensibility that seeks to both affirm and transcend its roots.
Resemble Reassemble will show from 17 January to 10 May at the Devi Art Foundation, Sirpur House, Gurgaon. For details, go to www.deviartfoundation.org