A few weeks ago I attended the opening of Saad Quereshi’s group show at Aicon Gallery London. Saad is a young, Pakistani-English artist whose highly-conceptual work is both rigorous and well crafted. He was extremely grateful for his parents’ support of him pursuing a career in art which I found endearing.
Click here to read Kavita Ramdya’s article “An Alien Artist”, a profile of artist Saad Quereshi.
“News India Times” November 20, 2009
“An Alien Artist” by Kavita Ramdya
Saad Qureshi is easy to pick out in a crowd. At “Wound”, an Aicon Gallery group show, Saad sticks out: he wears immaculately-white high-top sneakers two sizes too big for his feet. Saad’s sneakers are the discerning feature of his “artist costume”, an outfit that must have taken him a week of internal to-ing and fro-ing plus phone conversations with friends for him to pull together. He wears the multiple layers indicative of his current status as an art graduate student at University College London’s Slade School of Fine Art including a white shirt, red tie, purple cardigan and black jacket. His hair is tussled and he isn’t clean shaven, giving him the appearance of looking disoriented from having just left his art studio for the first time in days.
The young Pakistani artist furtively scans the gallery while speaking to friends, family and associates, giving the feeling that he is half present in all his conversations. However, when speaking with him, I have his full attention. What I quickly realize is that for all his posturing as iconoclast, he is not immune to the guilt young South Asians feel over rejecting more practical vocational choices (e.g. law, medicine, business) for embarking on a creative career as an artist. Saad describes how his parents, although initially unsupportive of his artistic interests, started to come around when his school teacher, Mrs. Robinson, explained to them that Saad was a “chosen one”. Now, he continues, his “parents are 200% behind me” and “would do anything to help me in my career”. Saad’s parents surface again and again, so much so that I begin to feel like I am his shrink rather than an Arts Op-Ed columnist. Alternatively, and I wouldn’t put it past Saad whose youth is a powerful cover-up for his shrewdness, he may be planting material on me that he knows a South-Asian reading audience subscribing to “News India Times” would find endearing.
Saad Qureshi, despite his formulaic style and earnest concern for his parents’ approval, is an exceptional conceptual artist. Not only is his work well-crafted and of the highest standard of quality, but its themes and concerns are relevant and timely. When he tells me that he works constantly and needs to be coerced into leaving the 24-hour art studio to eat and sleep, I am not surprised. His work is the conceptualisation of issues of immigration, terrorism, and victimhood, all as current as the daily e-mail alerts I receive from the “New York Times” and “Washington Post”.
Qureshi has two qualities that will stand him in good stead as he moves forward in his career. First, he is prolific. Second, his work is a response to his personal experiences as a young Pakistani growing up in the suburbs. However, these personal themes reverberate on a global scale: the alienation and marginalization he captures in his sculptures and on the canvas also speak to the current political climate with regard to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the proliferation of racism.
Jagroop Mehta, the gallery’s Sales Associate, explains how a collection of black, life-sized alien figure sculptures symbolize marginalized societies. On a more personal level, the black sculptures refer to the artist’s adolescence while living in the suburbs, where he felt like an outsider. When I ask Qureshi about his tribe-of-aliens sculptures, he refers to Frantz Fanon, a black, mid-twentieth-century French post-colonial philosopher whose writing serves as the intellectual backbone in Qureshi’s own work. Fanon discusses how the “other” is only a different version of oneself. After learning the intellectual underpinning of Qureshi’s work, I silently applauded his ability to inspire repulsion and intrigue in the viewers of his sculpture collection. He successfully mirrors the viewer’s own grotesqueness by drawing his or her attention to the quality of the “other” in his works.
In addition to the alien-like sculptures, a collection of Qureshi’s “edge paintings” are in the show. From a distance, the pieces look like fresh, egg-white canvases waiting for the artist’s attention. However, upon closer viewing, Qureshi has meticulously painted, drawn, and “scrap-booked” in marginalized figures on the edges, where the canvas bunches up and threatens to be overlooked rather than on the smooth, white, fresh surface. The scrap-book nature of the canvas’ edges is a result of Qureshi’s use of multi- media. Along with drawing and painting on the canvas’ edges, he also utilizes photographs and currency to convey concepts around “the other”.
When asked why he refrained from utilizing the medium of the canvas in a traditional way, Qureshi describes his frustration with painting: “I felt restricted, like painting was a limited medium… I discovered the edge of the canvas instead.” He goes on to describe his images threaten to “slip off the canvas” and Qureshi’s role as the artist is to “catch these images before they fall into oblivion”. Niru Ratnam, the gallery’s curator, describes how despite Qureshi’s age (he is not yet twenty-four years old), the artist’s installation works “are conceptually very well developed”. The use of Fanon and Qureshi’s ability to discuss his work on a theoretical level are testaments of the thought process he puts into his art.
Ivan, an art student enrolled in the same program Qureshi is finishing his studies, rejects the notion that his friend is a painter. Instead, Ivan describes Qureshi as a “designer” who “arranges things”, designing canvases like Tom Ford would “designer jeans”. Although on the face of it, Ivan’s comments might seem unfriendly, in the context of looking at Qureshi’s painstakingly-detailed work, one quickly realizes how much of his art is based on the conscientious placement of details.
Clearly a workaholic, Qureshi is managing well during a defining moment in his young career. Currently his work is showing in a well-respected gallery while he is still completing the final year of his Master’s degree. Finally he has just finished filming what I am guessing is a reality television show on BBC2. Throughout the private viewing of “Wound”, my ears pricked when scattered associates referred to a television production of some sort which incorporates various young artists including Qureshi. The production is not meant to be public, but then artists are not known for their ability to keep secrets.