Beyond the Page: The Miniature as Attitude in Contemporary Art from Pakistan at Pacific Asia Museum

Asia Pacific Museum

March 17, 2010

Beyond the Page: The Miniature as Attitude in Contemporary Art from Pakistan
Until June 27, 2010

Co-organized by Green Cardamom
and Pacific Asia Museum

Pacific Asia Museum
46 North Los Robles Avenue
Pasadena, California 91101
+1 (626) 449-2742

Artists: Hamra Abbas, Zahoor ul Akhlaq, Faiza Butt, Noor Ali Chagani, Ali Kazim, Aisha Khalid, Rehana Mangi, Hasnat Mehmood, Imran Qureshi, Nusra Latif Qureshi, Rashid Rana, Anwar Jalal Shemza and Muhammad Zeeshan.

Beyond the Page opened at the Pacific Asia Museum on 18 February and runs until 27 June. This landmark exhibition explores the continued significance of miniature painting in contemporary art from Pakistan, and traces its radical transformation through a total of fifty works by thirteen innovative artists. It is guest curated by Hammad Nasar with Anna Sloan and Bridget Bray.

Dynamic, politically charged, and diverse in both form and concept, new art from Pakistan takes the miniature into uncharted territories, far from the courtly context in which it was formulated centuries ago. Though all the artists represented here have responded directly to the rich history of miniature painting in South Asia, only seven trained as miniature painters. The remaining six deploy technical and structural features of the miniature as part of their varied practices: from sculpture to photography. Most have taken elements of miniature practice “off the page” in a literal sense, expanding the dimensions and materials of their work beyond the margins of book and album folios where miniatures resided in pre-modern times.

Though these artists take the historical miniature in multiple directions, their work is bound by a set of common principles. They share formal ideals as well as conceptual interests, which converge to form a sensibility or attitude owed to the significant role of the visual language, framework and conventions of miniature in each artist’s training or early development. The laborious work of the miniaturist is manifested in these artists’ attention to the physical qualities of the art object, their intricate, virtuoso, and, at times, near-obsessive processes. There is a continued reference to the tradition of the book as a conceptual springboard and a literal framework for their ideas. Artistic traditions at Islamic courts relied upon intricate geometric designs – infinite repeating units of measure defined by a metered grid, an aesthetic that found a new ally in Modernist ideas. Consequently the grid as utilized in both traditions, the historical and the modern, finds ready expression in the new miniature.

This current outpouring of creative energy from Pakistan may be viewed as an “ism,” or collective movement, fed by shared influences, yet forged by many individual visions.

An important source of the coherence of this movement is Lahore’s National College of Arts (NCA), a colonial era institution founded in 1872, that provided a home for continued education in the arts of the miniature. Here experiments with the miniature initially under the impetus of Zahoor ul Akhlaq, opened a dialogue that challenged the perceived role of “tradition” in Pakistani art and paved the way for formal and conceptual innovation in the ensuing decades. Beyond the Page traces the arc of those innovations to date, spanning art practices over almost 70 years.

This exhibition further builds on a 2006/7 exhibition Beyond the Page: Contemporary Art from Pakistan curated by Hammad Nasar for Manchester Art Gallery and Asia House, London.

Bridget Bray
b.bray [​at​]
626.449.2742 x26

Pacific Asia Museum
46 North Los Robles Avenue,
Pasadena, California 91101.
+1 (626) 449-2742

Museum open Wednesday through Sunday 10 am to 6 pm.
Admission free every 4th Friday of the month.

Image above:
Hamra Abbas
Battle Scenes, 2006 (detail)
Diptych, lenticular print
Courtesy of the artist and Green Cardamom