The Curve is a space at the Barbican which, as the name suggests, is a curved, narrow corridor with high ceilings. It’s a weird and non-flexible space for art exhibitions, especially if one is used to a white cube model. Nonetheless, the Barbican often succeeds in presenting great show in this odd space by commissioning works as is the case of the “Where the Shadows are so Deep“, by the award-winning Pakistani artist Imnran Qureshi.
Imnran Qureshi is an expert on the traditional art of miniature paintings, which, having dominated the technique, he bends to his own will, creating larger splashes of colour. Unlike a Monet painting, with calm colored strokes, Qureshi’s larger paintings are visceral, yet incredibly delicate. According to the artist:
From the time I graduated (in 1994) I tried to find the answer to the question ‘What is a contemporary miniature painting’, so I started looking at the idea of single-figure compositions in miniature painting, and I created a lot of work around that theme and was looking at it from different angles. After some time I came to the conclusion that miniature painting is not only a formal arrangement of different objects with a narrative, but it is something beyond this, and this thing pushed me towards the abstraction in my own work, which was also very much connected to the traditional practice of miniature painting (“Interview with Imran Qureshi | Asia Art Archive”, 2016)
Traditionally, you’re basically making reproductions of old miniatures. As a traditional art form, it offers a very limited way of working without much opportunity to express yourself. But we changed that by expanding miniature painting and transforming it into a medium for self-expression, and it became really successful (“Deutsche Bank – ArtMag – 75 – feature – The “Artist of the Year,” Imran Qureshi, in an interview”, 2016)
The painting process is extensively time consuming and analogic, using hand made paper glued together to form the basis for the painting, which then takes hours to produce, a millimetre a time.
When you walk into the curve your eyes need to adjust: it is dark, and spots of light illuminate first the floor – not the walls. This is because Qureshi decided to expand his paintings and paint on the wall and the floor directly, surpassing the miniature frames, which reminded me immediately of Lucio Fontana’s trespassing the bi-dimensionality of the canvas.
From afar, Qureshi’s “spatial“ paintings look like a bloody crime scene until one comes close enough to see beautiful petals. The lighting is superbly done so that the visitor needs to step carefully as to not step onto these “blood pools“ and get closer to the frames, where the artist’s customary delicate paintings demand attention and pauses – going against the fats flux of our times. It really does enhance the space, as intended by the artist (see the video below). The series of miniatures start off with nature scenes which transition into darker and weird scenes. As the artist mentions on an interview:
The trees are like characters. This one is the romantic: it inclines towards another but in doing so loses its own roots. (Shariatmadari, 2016)
This show exposes an utmost respect for the artists practice. Even if one does not know anything about Qureshi, it is hard to not be mesmerized by the experience.
Where the Shadows are so Deep
18 February 2016 – 10 July 2016
Deutsche Bank – ArtMag – 75 – feature – The “Artist of the Year,” Imran Qureshi, in an interview. (2016). Db-artmag.com. Retrieved 24 April 2016, from http://db-artmag.com/en/75/feature/the-artist-of-the-year-imran-qureshi-in-an-interview/
Interview with Imran Qureshi | Asia Art Archive. (2016). Aaa.org.hk. Retrieved 24 April 2016, from http://www.aaa.org.hk/Diaaalogue/Details/493
Shariatmadari, D. (2016). ‘Violence is all around me’: Imran Qureshi on his disturbing miniatures. the Guardian. Retrieved 24 April 2016, from http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/feb/18/violence-is-all-around-me-imran-qureshi-on-his-disturbing-miniatures