Reviews For Friends #12: Imran Qureshi at Ikon, Birmingham

Quietly confrontational

This surprising exhibition of miniatures and installations from acclaimed Pakistani artist, Imran Qureshi, powerfully brings together traditional techniques with current - and violent - issues facing the modern world.

A theme of visceral red paint disarmed with tiny, elegant flowers is woven throughout all of the works, some dating back to 2009 and others new works that have been made for this exhibition at Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery. Qureshi’s pieces, unassuming at first glance, depict people going about their everyday mundanities, juxtaposed alongside intricate flora and fauna that include blossoms and dragonflies. These delicate, blood-red beauties hint at a dark undercurrent. The hum of violence and bloodshed is haunting.

Born in Pakistan in 1972, Qureshi trained in the discipline of miniature painting - an art that flourished in the Mughal courts of the Sixteenth Century - and in Qureshi’s work this tradition meets the modern day in all it’s darkness and disruption. For me, this synthesis is most excitingly realised in his installations. In “I Want You To Stay With Me” (2013) dark red pools sit ominously on the gallery floor - on close inspection, each is filled with ornamental flowers.

In the showstopper, “And They Still Seek The Traces Of Blood” (2013), thousands of sheets of crumpled paper, printed with images from earlier works, form a mountainous range that constricts a whole room in a claustrophobic mass. The title of the piece quotes a Faiz Ahmed Faiz poem about those who have been buried without their lives honoured or the circumstances of death investigated.

The result is a monstrous, chilling installation which is, at the same time, almost gentle. Unaggressive. Perhaps this speaks of the artist’s time absorbed in the tradition of miniatures, a discipline of restraint. The terror of his works are controlled - they never quite spiral out of control or take you over the edge. But I liked that very much - there is a boyish mood to this collection. Qureshi refers to the flora and fauna that appear in his work as ‘germs of hope. In “Self-Portrait”, he sits in an oval medallion that is set in a striking gold background, surrounded by dragonflies as he holds a blossom. Another world, even childlike.

But his work is anything but naive. At times I found myself at once feeling charmed and disturbed. Masterful. And memorable.


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