"The idea is about death and life, or violence and beauty, and violence and hope."
Imran Qureshi is an incredibly gifted Pakistani artist. As a painter he delves in both classical art forms as well as modern sculptural design.
All of his works offer tradition with a contemporary twist. Just by viewing them, it is acutely apparent how influenced he is by his social sphere; current affairs stand out in his art, and is eerily symbolic of daily tragedies both in Pakistan and the rest of the world.
Born in the Sindh city of Hyderabad, Imran was influenced by the craft of traditional Indian art forms from a very early age.
In an exclusive Gupshup with DESIblitz, he fondly recalls his school teacher, 80 year-old Mr. AKB Shaikh, who opened the possibility of creative art for a young Imran:
“Actually Hyderabad itself was not that exposed to contemporary art and there were no art galleries so it was very limited. But at my school, luckily, I got a really good teacher and I learned a lot from him.”
Imran admits that it was from Mr Shaikh that he learned all he needed to know about abstraction, strokes and washes – and this greatly served him later on when he went to National College of Arts Lahore to do his undergraduate degree.
The artist’s portfolio displays a keen precision of styles, taken from his many years of university training in miniature painting from the Mughal era. Having extensive knowledge in classical techniques, he is then able to adapt and shape it into something that is both contemporary and startlingly relevant.
Simply see his piece of a young man painting on the ground of a walled compound. Using gold leaf and splatters of red, Qureshi displays inner battles of life and self-inflicted devastation, in an apparent luxurious enclave.
It is evident that subliminal messaging stem through his pieces: “I was always interested in socio-political kind of statements in my work,” Imran says.
Winning the Deutsche Bank “Artist of the Year” 2013 award signifies the migration of Imran’s art from its Pakistani origins to the West, and how welcome it is here.
In his recent exhibition at Birmingham’s IKON Gallery, Imran’s work splits across three separate sections:
“One is very miniature paintings, and then there are large-scale paintings on canvases which are more abstract. And then there are other works which just more about video and these kind of monumental instalments.”
Qureshi’s art plays with natural elements, floral prints and designs but these are marred using a very visually violent approach.
Red splatters of blood are a common running theme in all of his art pieces, signifying a very cruel, man-made destructive force at war with the natural landscape.
One piece which stands out simply by its sheer magnitude is a sculptural installation made up of endless crumpled sheets of red stained paper.
Titled, ‘And they still seek the traces of blood’, it took a whole team of volunteers to create a landscape of organised chaos.
Interestingly, during the interview with DESIblitz, Imran modified the sculpture even further and offered a new take on the monumental piece exclusively for our viewers.
For Imran, the piece is representative of current times; particularly human-led disasters that have unearthed natural landscapes. But amongst this are elements of hope and new life to be found, and thus optimism to be found in people themselves:
“The idea is about death and life, or violence and beauty, and violence and hope. In recent years, after 9/11 the idea of landscape has changed forever.
“The way landscape which is full of life and within a second it transforms into a very bloody landscape. But I feel that there is still hope in people.”
“They are looking for a good future, something good and they are hoping; and whenever something little happens they feel very positive about it which is a great thing. And I think that’s why this idea of life and destruction of life is working at the same time in my work.”
Despite using differing forms and styles of art, all his pieces are interconnected with each other. This is predominantly through the use of red lines and splattered floral designs.
This is not only in the art work themselves, but also on the floor and walls of the exhibition, creating an entire landscape to journey through:
“They look different but then there is a strong connection. There is the same kind of one line going on through each work,” Imran admits.
Despite the nation’s questionable political and social stability, Imran agrees that contemporary Pakistani artists like himself are envisioning new avenues in which to present art:
“I think right now, the most exciting and most positive thing which is happening in Pakistan is the contemporary art scene. Young artists that are coming up, there is a diversity in their approaches.
“They are quite original and it’s coming from them from inside. I think after 9/11, everything has changed and it’s reflecting in their art work as well.
“Not in a very direct way, but somehow this thing has made everything really vibrant in Pakistan and Pakistani art. It’s very different from other parts of South Asia so the Pakistani contemporary art I am very excited [about].”
Without a doubt Imran’s artwork leaves a lingering debate about our current social climes. In the face of continuing war and destruction across the globe, these pieces offer us some glimmer of optimism, hope and life in the endless splatters of blood.
To find out more about Imran Qureshi’s Birmingham exhibition, please visit the IKON Gallery website.