Risham Syed’s practice critically focuses on the remains of cultural/historical inheritance and its perceived authenticity in present-day Pakistan.
She received a BFA in Painting from the National College of Art, Lahore (1993) and an MA from the Royal College of Art, London (1996).
Solo shows include: Lahore 2010, Rohtas Gallery, Lahore (2010), And the Rest is History, Talwar Gallery, New York (2010), Canvas Gallery, Karachi (2008). Her work has been exhibited in group shows including: The Rising Tide, Mohatta Palace Museum, Karachi (2010-11), Ar (2009)t Dubai, (2010), Resemble/Reassemble, Devi Art Foundation, Gurgaon, India, Emperor’s New Clothes: Dress, Politics and Identity in Pakistani Art, Talwar Gallery (2008), Conversations 1, Elementa Gallery, Dubai (2007), Landscape and Outside the Cube, National Gallery of Art, Islamabad, (2005), ’58 Years of Pakistani Art, Alhamra Art Gallery, Lahore (2004), Playing with the loaded gun, Apex Art, New York (2002) & Kunsthalle Fridericianum, Kassel, Germany (2004) 2nd Fukuoka Triennale, Museum of Asian Art, Fukuoka, Japan (2002), in Threads, Dreams and Desires, The Harris Museum, Preston, UK (1998). She was awarded the Stephenson Harwood Award (1996), Charles Wallace Trust Scholarship, UK (1996) and the Cite’ International des Arts, Paris, France (1995).
She is currently an Assistant Professor at the School of Visual Art, Beaconhouse National University, Lahore, Pakistan, where she continues to live and work. Risham Syed is represented by Talwar Gallery, New York. (Source: Abraaj Capital)
Risham Syed is interested in history and how it connects itself with the present moment. She has used images from art history (repainted in acrylics, creating a plastic object or conceptual piece) domestic items, fabrics and textiles, and other objects, all having nuanced meanings in contemporary Pakistani society, to play with often-unchallenged ideas of gender and social roles, colonial legacies, social/collective psyche, and manifestations of the human desire to fit it by cultivating the appearance sophistication, prosperity, and power.
“The most apparent thing is a domestic space that comes through from these constructions. It’s a metaphor for roles, persona, pretenses, power play, control, etc. Domesticity is a tool that I use to connect various issues with the larger picture. You see a quiet wall lamp with a small painting under it but on close inspection the painting is of disturbance or violence.” (Verve)
The Indians Viewing the Landscape, (Image:Uddari Art Exhibition)
“Indians Viewing the Landscape, 2010, a modified rendition of Thomas Cole’s eponymous nineteenth-century painting of two Native Americans looking out at an idyllic pastoral setting. The work hovers just above the floor, at the “eye level” of two ornate miniature chairs satirically completing the installation. Engaging the Hudson River School through British-born Cole and displaying the work in New York also suggests something of the complex relations among America, Britain, and its colonies in the period. Syed’s exploration of these topics aptly calls attention to the less studied relationship between Victorian history and South Asian Muslim cultures, and offers a lens into complex issues of both past and present in contemporary Pakistan.” (Art Forum)
The Cushion (Image:Uddari Art Exhibition)
Tent of Darius (Image:Uddari Art Exhibition)
Landscape 0208 (Image:Uddari Art Exhibition)
Landscape 0223 (Image:Uddari Art Exhibition)
“Homes are a reflection of one`s ideas/ideals about life. I use homes as a metaphor of our worldview. They are also reflective of our collective psyche that manifests itself in the form of white houses, or Mughal jharokas or Swati carvings—I’ve been intrigued by the idea and used `ideal homes` or `trendy homes` in my work to comment on the crossroads we are in history.” (Dawn.com)
Untitled VI (Source: Rohtas Gallery)
“In this particular series I’m looking at the back walls of houses of the new burgeoning housing schemes in Lahore. These are supposed to be new ideal middle class homes/houses/buildings and their back walls are a reality one cannot escape…”
Untitled VII (Source: Rohtas Gallery)
In Her Own Words
Excerpted from Canvas Magazine’s Interview with the 2012 ACAP winners.
How does it feel to win the Abraaj Capital Art Prize 2012? It is exciting because it is something that stays in your in head once you have submitted the proposal. It is great that we have this opportunity where you have a fund that helps different artists realise their individual projects. The thing is, winning ACAP doesn’t just reward your proposal with a prize, it also helps you develop your body of work. Through this prize, I am also being introduced to this region and fellow artists, which is another interesting aspect of the process.
You live in Lahore, Pakistan. How does the country’s socio-political context inform your paintings? In my paintings, which also incorporate other media, I tackle themes that are linked to my life, experiences and surroundings in Lahore. My oeuvre is related to topics pertaining to history, especially in the 18th and 19th centuries, and how the events that occurred back then are still impacting our everyday lives today, both in Lahore and the rest of the world. I compare the socio-political situation then versus now. I usually come up with a basic idea and eventually, the work takes on a life of its own. The piece for ACAP is based on my previous works.
Will your 2012 ACAP piece be the first time you work so closely with a curator? Yes, definitely. It will be an interesting process as I usually work on my own without any external input. It is a tight deadline, so as I am producing the work in Pakistan; Nat Muller [ACAP 2012 curator] and I will be communicating via phone and skype. We will also try to meet in person as often as possible in the next few months.
Read Risham’s interview with Art in the City that goes further into her themes, practices, and aesthetics.
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