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Imran Qureshi, Deutsche Bank´s “Artist of the Year” 2013
"If everyone likes it, then I´ve done something wrong." - Anselm Reyle at Deichtorhallen in Hamburg
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Violence, Beauty, Hope: Imran Qureshi is
Deutsche Bank's “Artist of the Year” 2013

He’s considered one of Pakistan’s most important artists. Imran Qureshi will be presented in spring of 2013 with a large solo exhibition at the “Deutsche Bank KunstHalle”. The KunstHalle will also open with this show. Oliver Koerner von Gustorf on Qureshi’s unique work, which has radically renewed the centuries-old tradition of miniature painting while addressing highly relevant social themes.

Imran Qureshi - Deutsche Bank "Artist of the Year" 2013

Like beads strung on invisible threads, rain falls in precise lines from golden-hued clouds which part to reveal a patch of deep blue sky: Moderate Enlightenment, Imran Qureshi’s series of miniature paintings made between 2006 and 2009, presents an infinitely detailed, wondrous world. Everything in it seems delicate to the point of fragility—the blades of grass poking out of the earth, the ornamental branches and vines of the bushes and trees that intertwine to create frames and patterns. The young men and women in this microcosm also seem tender and introverted, dreamily blowing soap bubbles and flower petals into the air, opening their umbrellas, or taking walks, immersed in their solitude. Their style of clothing indicates that they are of the Muslim faith. The watercolor scenes seem so light and carefree that they have to be contained in gold leaf and ornamentation in order not to fly away. A lost paradise, one might say; a look at the spiritual unity of man and nature, a traditional, comprehensible world in which everything is intact and in its place.
But this nostalgic sentiment is far too simple, as becomes clear at second glance. Qureshi counters the initial impression of the sublime and near-antiquity with the insignia of a global leisure culture: his protagonists carry messenger bags, wear cargo shorts and camouflage T-shirts. The practical military look is a clear fashion statement. In combination with religion and spirituality, however, it quickly brings fanaticism to mind. Taking these “modern” signs into consideration when looking at Qureshi’s paintings, they are no longer as formally clear. Abstraction lies hidden beneath the ornament. The gold, which quickly evokes associations to religion, could also be the gold that western artists like Yves Klein, James Lee Byars, and Andy Warhol brought back into vogue in the second half of the 20th century.
Global reality has also crept into these idyllic scenes. The title Moderate Enlightenment is also a term former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf coined in 2003 at a summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to describe the path the Islamic world must take to finally escape the dead-end of fundamentalism and anti-Western sentiment. In its complexity, however, Qureshi’s series puts both to the test: the rigidity of religious fundamentalism and the rigidity of western “enlightened” clichés of Islamic culture.

Now, Deutsche Bank has selected Imran Qureshi, one of the most important figures on the contemporary Pakistani art scene, as its 2013 "Artist of the Year." Based on a recommendation of the Deutsche Bank Global Art Advisory Council, which includes internationally renowned curators Okwui Enwezor, Hou Hanru, Udo Kittelmann, and Victoria Noorthoorn, the bank honors an auspicious artist who addresses social issues in an individual way and has created a substantial oeuvre that concentrates on the two focal points of the Deutsche Bank Collection: works on paper and photography. The selection was announced in Berlin, where Qureshi’s works will be shown in a major solo presentation at the “Deutsche Bank KunstHalle” in the spring of 2013.

Imran Quershi got his bachelor degree in 1993 at the National College of Arts in Lahore, in the very same department of miniature painting that he teaches today, a department that is the only one of its kind in the world. The art academy in Lahore began in the 1980s to revive this old art form. The curriculum included a wide variety of styles, such as the Persian schools and the Moghul School, which flourished in the 16th and 17th centuries. The students learn the complicated painting technique as well as how to make their paper themselves in the Wasli method and to fashion fine brushes from the hair of squirrels. This is one of the main principles of the school, which was founded in 1875 by Lockwood Kipling, father of The Jungle Book author Rudyard Kipling, with the aim of training a new generation of creative local artists. Today, around 20,000 hopeful students apply each year to the school, while only 150 are accepted.  And only a dozen make it into the class for miniature painting.

That the class is so coveted is also due to the fact that students like Quereshi began in the 1990s to expand miniature painting into a contemporary form of artistic expression. While classical miniature painting was usually restricted to religious stories, the depiction of battles, and courtly life, the students combined it with contemporary art forms such as new media and conceptual thought and used it to comment on the social developments in their region. Religion, gender roles, and politics are the themes addressed on the young Pakistani scene, also using the means of miniature painting. The National College of Arts in Lahore has since produced new generations of Pakistani artists whose works are increasingly meeting with international acclaim in major exhibitions and at biennials. This is due both to the completely new forms of expression that miniature painting brings to fore and to the personal experiences that the artists from these conflicted regions incorporate in their work.
Along with Qureshi, the 1969-born Shahzia Sikander is another graduate of the art academy that has experienced an international breakthrough. A Muslim, the New York-based Pakistani artist investigates the formal means of miniature painting in her drawings, videos, animations, and installations. Sikander’s work questions the role of the Muslim woman and stereotypical western views that associate Islam solely with terrorism and the oppression of women. Religion plays a key role both in her life and in her work.
Just as little as it does for her and for many artists of the younger Pakistani generation, for Imran Quershi this is not a contradiction to progressive and emancipatory thinking. On the contrary: it is precisely in this connection between deep spirituality and enlightened thought, the continuous negotiation of opposing values, traditions, and ideologies that hope can be found to escape an almost hopeless situation: since gaining its independence, Pakistan has been the site of violent clashes between various different religious and ethnic groups, particularly between militant Sunnis and Shiites. In addition, since the military regime entered into a political and military alliance with the US after the September 11 attacks, the country has increasingly become the site of terrorist attacks itself. In Pakistan, violence seems an almost everyday occurrence.

They shimmer still is the poetic, yet defiant title of Imran Qureshi’s installation for the 2012 Sydney Biennial. Red paint streams like blood over the stairs and ramps of a former dry dock on Cockatoo Island in Sydney Harbor—as though copious amounts of blood had been spilled and splattered here. At second glance, it turns out to be hundreds of ornamental flowers flowing over the cement and rusty metal, forming paths and islands. Shoots of hope, the title Qureshi has given to these blossoms, can be understood as a sign of a new beginning, the start of new life. As did the installation Blessings Upon the Land of My Love, for which Qureshi received a prize in 2011 at the 10th Sharjah Biennial in the United Arab Emirates, the work in Sydney was also made under the impression of a bomb explosion the artist experienced in 2010 on a busy plaza in his neighborhood. At the same time, as he himself stresses, Qureshi is not only concerned with violence in his home country. His art is aimed at violence in principle—through restrictive role models and political, ideological, and religious systems.

Qureshi’s art does not shy away from expressing grief and horror. At the same time, however, it addresses the constant alternation between destruction and creation as an existential cycle that brings not only despair, but also reason for hope. “Yes, these forms stem from violence,” he said in an interview in 2011, “they are mingled with the color of blood, and at the same time this is where a dialogue with life, with new beginnings starts.” These seeds of hope keep emerging in Qureshi’s art, also in his paper works. They twist and thread throughout the splatters of paint and geometric patterns. They are part of an entire arsenal of motifs that emerge like solid signs in his symbolic landscapes. There are oval forms reminiscent of eggs or buds, germs of new life or protective encasements in which memories, thoughts, and feelings are hidden. And then there are the half-opened scissors that are placed horizontally or vertically in order to separate, to cut—perceptions, social connections, world views. Here, scissors are symbols for violence and censorship.
It’s this very simultaneity that marks Qureshi’s works: “There is an almost paradoxical quality between violence and beauty, life and death existing on one surface,” he said in 2011. Interestingly, miniature painting forms the basis for everything, for small formats on paper as well as huge, installation-based works that can occupy entire buildings and plazas. Part of Qureshi’s training as a painter of miniatures is to create a grid as a structure for each work. Drawing the so-called Hashiyas  (boundaries) serves as more than just a system of coordinates. As Roobina Karode writes about Qureshi in an exhibition catalogue from 2006, the orchestration of the narrative drama is created in the most controlled manner possible: “Traditionally, the finest details and the richly textured surfaces are carefully built laid over this schematic structure of the miniature that discourages afterthoughts or random inclusions.”
Throughout 20th-century art, the geometric grid has been a central ordering system for Constructivism and Minimalism alike. Qureshi also discovers it in everyday life, for instance in found situations: in architecture and the attributes of a place. He uses the grooves between floor plates, the angles of walls in rooms and houses, the fugues between bricks as well as an imposed grid on paper. But in contrast to traditional miniature painting, ornamentation rebels against the rigid grid. Just as Qureshi lets ornaments ooze from corners and cracks like moss in his installations, in his paper works they flow in a soft and organic way. In many of his paintings, the ornament corresponds with painterly gestures and paint splatters brimming with affect. Qureshi’s paintings and installations resemble maps of emotion and thought in which the ornament repeatedly corresponds with rigid forms, softens them and calls them into question. The basis of Qureshi’s works is both rational and spiritual. It speaks to both: the necessity of enlightenment and the necessity of belief, of preserving long-held traditions. In Qureshi’s work, as with many other artists, the ornament, which became obsolete in modernism with Adolf Loos’s essay Ornament and Crime, plays a mediating role—between epochs, traditions, and cultures. Particularly in a time of global crisis, it is taking on a new meaning as a universal language. In Qureshi’s work, it speaks of conflict and violence. But it also imparts a great and simple hope: that everything is connected to everything else, that everything is part of a larger life energy that prevails gently and persistently against destruction and death.

Imran Qureshi: Deutsche Bank´s "Artist of the Year" 2013
Ikon Gallery, Birmingham
November 19, 2014 - January 25, 2015

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Art and Diplomacy - Hillary Rodham Clinton Awards Artists from the Deutsche Bank Collection / In spring of 2013 the "Deutsche Bank KunstHalle" opens in Berlin with the "Artist of the Year" Imran Quereshi / Poetry and Politics - Yto Barrada at Fotomuseum Winterthur / Poetic Topography - Gabriel Orozco´s Asterisms Now at the Guggenheim New York / Look at Me! Schirn Explores the Private Sphere / Berlin - Plein Air: Deutsche Bank supports major show of Christopher Lehmpfuhl´s work / Material is Everything - Tony Cragg Awarded the Cologne Fine Art Prize
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