Focus Dubai: Home and the Foreign World

  • A new art and cultural space in Dubai will throw the spotlight on exemplary South Asian artists 
  • Ishara Art Foundation’s inaugural exhibtion will feature works by Zarina Hashmi and Shilpa Gupta 

Home is imagined to be a place of permanence and rootedness, security and comfort. But as cement borders climb higher and higher, countries disintegrate into political fisticuffs, and citizens become refugees, the notion of home takes on a different meaning. Altered Inheritances: Home Is A Foreign Place, the inaugural exhibition at Ishara Art Foundation, Dubai, explores the narrative of borders, displacement, loss and resilience by bringing together the works of two formidable artists, Zarina Hashmi and Shilpa Gupta. The unconventional pairing was the idea of Ishara Art Foundation’s artistic director, Nada Raza, a specialist in South Asian art.

The foundation is the brainchild of Smita Prabhakar, a keen art collector who has lived in Dubai for close to 40 years. It emerged from Prabhakar’s desire to showcase some of the finest South Asian art in her adopted land, the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Lounge spoke to Raza, the curator of the exhibition, a week before its opening on 18 March. Edited excerpts:

How significant is this exhibition in the context of the current political climate?

If you look at their practices, both Shilpa and Zarina have, at different points of their life, been deeply concerned with borders and displacement. So we thought that it made sense to speak about these issues from a particularly South Asian point of view. Obviously, when I was working on this show, I wasn’t aware that countries (Pakistan and India) would be at it again. So now, this exhibition has taken on a new life.

I worked on a show called Lines Of Control many years ago, and Shilpa and I have talked about such issues a lot. It’s almost like you feel that art and life are completely intertwined. This particular show, however, is not looking at the obvious politics. It’s not documentary-style or sensational. It is looking at work that is quiet and poetic. What I have done with the show is that I’ve tried to bring out the inclination towards poetry and metaphor in both Shilpa’s and Zarina’s practices.

Were there any strong similarities that emerged while juxtaposing Gupta’s and Hashmi’s works?

What I’ve done is taken the material affinity between these two artists and brought them together. So you will see that there are similarities even in the kind of approaches they have to their practice. Like the monochrome works (the idea of using text and image) or using paper and string. Zarina’s early works in the 1970s, for instance, are all made using just paper and string. Similarly, Shilpa used paper and string recently in her series on trees that grow on different borders; she has used the textile of Phulia saris or she has made strings out of Jamdani (saris). So once I started seeing the parallels, the juxtapositions started making sense. I’ve got Zarina’s Beyond The Stars in relation to Shilpa’s carbon work, which is looking at the floodlights at the border (titled 1703 km Of Flood Lighting—Department Of Border Management Home Ministry Of India), which from far away looks like a sky full of stars. So these very simple thematic threads have come together.

What is the key learning viewers can take away from this show?

What both Zarina and Shilpa always conceptually try to do is make you think and engage you intellectually. Like how absurd it is that two sisters have been separated for a number of years or how absurd it is that you can never go back to the house you grew up in. So they take you with them on that experience.

In that sense, it is quite a dense show; there are 37 works in total. The theme of loss and displacement runs through the show, and I hope that it appeals to people on multiple registers. Hopefully, it will make sense to them and they will understand the notion of not being able to return to a home, or home being elsewhere, yet being at home wherever they are. In addition, the show also explores how, in contemporary times, the ideas of home and belonging are quite complicated. And so, continuity and permanence can no longer be taken for granted.

Altered Inheritances: Home Is A Foreign Place will be on view at Ishara Art Foundation, Dubai, from 18 March-13 July.

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