In the exhibition Open Encounters - Artistic practice as conversation, hosted by the curatorial platform thxagain in Berlin, the artist Abdullah Qureshi engages in a visual dialogue with peers, theorists, activists, and cultural producers from Pakistan via Europe to Canada who have been and still are his companions. Qureshi is a multidisciplinary artist, curator, and educator, who roots his work in traditions of abstraction. He incorporates gestural, poetic, and hybrid methodologies to address autobiography, trauma, and sexuality. Recurring on his vita, his status quo and what it means being queer in Pakistani society, Qureshi examines, preserves, processes and represents his experiences and perspective on how society deals with queerness.
The exhibition Open Encounters serves as the artists' exploration of collaboration, representation, collective memory, and the meaning of social bonds in relation to personal lives, as well as art as a resistant practice. On show we encounter mainly paintings from queer peers of the artist. These are the result of investigating identity in multiple way. The cooperative approach of the exhibition does not only thematize the meaning of mutual imprints, but emphasizes the necessity for alliances to gain visibility in an exclusive (art) world. The resulting is a discursive collage of individual and collective horizons of thought, informed by motifs of social struggles for recognition and social justice interrogating personal and collective histories, the representation of identity and the nuances in the relationship to each other in the world. This dense social-historical fabric consists of the yarn of six different ways of queer living, which are still unrepresented in the context of western dominated art scene. These social fabrics are woven together in the exhibition with the voice of Abdullah Quereshi’s specter recurring six times:
People exist on a spectrum. Ideas exist on a spectrum.
Quereshi’s quick and abstract painting style as well as the variety of gestures and poses evoke openness for interpretation. It goes back to a time when the artist felt not well educated about his sexual identity at the age of 19. Through reduction and abstraction, Qureshi refers to the socially repressed recognition, historical as well as contemporary representation of queer life forms. Particularly characteristic are representations of naked bodies that have no face, as in the series of works Qasim and Ibrahim or Lockdown Lovers. Despite the gestures and specific body forms depicted, a hidden identity manifests itself in the facelessness, an existence that may not be designated and fully represented. Thus, this form of representation not only points to a (Pakistani) society that does not explicitly taboo homosexuality, but denies its existence through the lack of a term that would denote queerness. In fact, there is a formal term for homosexuality in Urdu, Humjinsparast, but there is no word for queerness as such. Because of adesignation that denies reality leaving them unmapped, the artist wants to give a face to queer reality by portraying queer personalities. Through this, Qureshi also reveals a hidden beauty that radiates into each of the people depicted. In his paintings he portraits meaningful experiences and moments of intimate encounters and at the same time tells the story of their protagonists. Resisting to depict violent or traumatic aspects, Qureshi succeeds in showing and preserving also beautiful and true moments enriching the discourse.
Rather than endless discussions and arguments, I believe in doing, in practice.
In his moving images, Qureshi situates artistic concerns from the personal into more expansive conversations on critical histories, visual culture, and social justice. In his film Mela Jaloos, Qureshi employs a fictional and experimental narrative, exploring cruising from a mythological and queer perspective. The visuals draw on personal memories and encounters on a performance-based approach to portray scenes, symbols, and non-linear narratives that extend his visual language, questions on identity, and queer genealogies outside the Western canon. In the movie, the three characters Mela, Jaloos, and the river Ravi, come together to discuss and respond to the end of the world and the collapsed timelines, as well as the implications for the present. The second part follows a series of vignettes that show the journey of Rab'ia, a ceremonial horse, two poetic lovers, and a zombie-like Muslim drag queen as they make their way to a central sacred pillar. What unfolds is a poetic and imaginative narrative of spiritual transgressions that opens up a cosmos of queer Muslim potential, celebration, and sexuality.
Violence and exclusion exist everywhere and we have to contextualise and challenge it.
One of the artists called to participate in Quereshi´s collective is Tasnim Baghdadi, who questions the Western canon dominated by white heteronormative christianity and the heritage of ancient Greek metaphysics through breaking down hegemonic ways of thinking in art history, religion and philosophy. Re-appropriating the pictorial abstract tradition in Western modernity, the artist disrupts and completes colonial continuities by excavating and investigating the invisible, the repressed and the forgotten. In the series Spalt im Kontinuum, the artist understands painting as part of a semiotic practice and explores the consequences of designations that impose a particular meaning on phenomena that actually possess an infinite number of qualities. In the protesting blackening of existing semiotic systems like the English language with its letters and grammar, Baghdadi creates a series of new signs with voids and gaps that point to spaces of new readings and interpretation of suppressed realities of life. With signs and a language of their own, communities are able to name and represent sexes, needs, beauties and imaginations which have no names in the common language system yet.
I am interested in people who work toward solutions. We give people trying to delegitimize marginalized perspectives too much power by engaging with them. In doing so, we validate them and that is counter-productive.
Engaging in new socio-cultural perspectives and telling different deviating narratives can be very successful in the challenge of bringing to visibility systems suppressed by secular or right-wing populism. Sara Khan adds a female gaze on the patriarchal system in Pakistan and beyond. In her fabric installation Dhualai, she translates what she sees as feminine in society and what she loves about it: the female form itself, relationship, motherhood and family. The translucent material of the fabric allows recipients to see through Khan's eyes and opens up the possibility of empathic understanding through perspective taking. Syowia Kyambi plays with the idea of perspective changing in another way. She connects psyche, history and the entanglement that exists in identities like gender fluid or transgender to go beyond binary categories: With the fictional character Kaspale Kyambi Kyambi creates a persona who occupies and challenges the spaces built by colonial histories. This character acts in photographs, performances and videos. The name Kaspale refers to the cultural heritage of a European jester figure, whose representative quality as a friend and symbol of honesty is put up for debate in the narrative and performative recontextualization by Kyambi. Through Kaspale's face formed in the mask, a role assumption of another identity occurs in the performative act. By looking at things we are used to in a different light, we can learn something about our own prejudices and misjudgments, as well as our questionable knowledge bases.
We have to unlearn! Resentment is a consequence of colonial structures, of a divide and rule approach. We have to understand where the bitterness comes from.
The reduction of one's prejudices is an important prerequisite to a rapprochement and encounter that can take place at eye level. Natasha Jozi is interested in collective human experiences, rituals and the intertwining of science and the spiritual body. In The way you touch me, she addresses the polarity of touch, which can be warm, protective, destructive, empowering and traumatizing. As a gesture beyond words, touch can both overcome individual isolation and sever social bonds. Gloria Zein engages in a dialogue of texture, density and structure, pausing personal developments and suggesting a new form of reality. In her sculptures Zeit(w/r) & pair and On Ice, she raises questions about the aesthetics of completeness and fulfillment through the presentation of works which appear unfinished: endlessly in progress. In each exhibition where her artworks are showed an insight into a momentary stage of the artwork is provided as a phase of life and creation inscribed in a continuous flux where transformations and identity are not opposed, but linked together. If utopia cannot be an attainable goal, it can at least be a desirable ideal in which social justice is shared by all. This process is an ongoing convergence: Change continues and must go on.
My approach to utopia is about breaking down utopia, binaries, and colonial mindsets. Challenge it, break it down, and queer it!
The cooperation of ARTCO (Simon Melchers) and thxagain (Benjamin Merten) navigates between community based art platform and commercial gallery concentrating on perspectives from the global south to shift the attention of the art world to artistic realities, perspectives and forms of expression beyond the western art market. For the future, as they told me, Melchers and Merten want to support an “even more receptivity to delicate global issues, both in terms of communities and individual fates.” In the so-called age of postmodernism, giving the oppressed and marginalized a platform to represent themselves and their issues is long overdue. What are "delicate issues" for white people who are still in a position of privilege, are a matter of survival for those who are oppressed and marginalized. Too many of the reputable art institutions and galleries still represent above all positions of white, male Europeans. An interventionist study of the works exhibited at the MdbK Leipzig by the installation class of the HGB revealed that there are currently only 34 female artists among the total of 362 exhibiting artists. It is time to progressively end the structural discrimination of female, non-binary and queer artists that continues to this day. More institutions should feel challenged to live up to their responsibility and stand up for more visibility of non-European and non-heteronormative artists. Let them know: the oppressed are many and they will never be silent.
Banner: The heat in Lahore, Abdullah Qureshi (2021)