Discovering the Aga Khan Museum: In Conversation with Pakistan’s Genius Artist – Imran Qureshi

In a series of conversations held by Ismailimail while reporting from Toronto, we share an account of the discussion with Imran Qureshi. 

Imran Qureshi takes a break to pose for a picture with the Aga Khan Museum in the background. (Image: Ismailimail/AM)
Imran Qureshi takes a break to pose for a picture with the Aga Khan Museum in the background. (Image: Ismailimail/AM)

Ismailimail met Imran on Tuesday night, the sun had set and it was dark outside but the mood in the park was tranquil even though there were many volunteers preparing for the following day’s press conference . As I inquired what was going on, Imran introduced himself and mentioned that he was working day and night to complete his art work “garden in a garden”. He graciously took a short break and talked to us a little about his work.

It wasn’t until later that I got a better understanding and appreciation of the scale of his work. Over the next few days I had many encounters with him as he worked tirelessly transforming the open dark granite stone square between the reflecting pools of the Aga Khan Park into a spectacular symphony of color – black, green, yellow and purple – the colors of the surrounding pool, foliage and flora.

Violent strokes interspersed with gentle designs. (Image: Ismailimail/AM)
Violent strokes interspersed with gentle designs. (Image: Ismailimail/AM)

I continued to photograph him while he worked and then eventually caught up with him to complete our conversation. Imran Qureshi has technical training in miniature art with emphasis in the Mughal era and his love for that artistic tradition finds expression in contemporary artworks. He says he “paints what he feels in his heart” always relating his work with the “architectural and natural surroundings, and the state of human affairs.” I inquired what do you mean? He responded with a profoundly serious look, “In my country – Pakistan, there is a lot of trouble and killing, and in all this chaos and violence people are always hopeful for a better future. That feeling of hope for peace and life returning to a peaceful time is beautiful feeling. And that is what my work reflects,” he said. “You will see,” as he pointed out to various rugged parts of his artwork, “there are violent brush strokes and rough, uncontrolled and splattered paint in many parts … that reflects the violence in our lives. Then I have more smooth and beautiful parts and that represents the beautiful parts of our life, love, family, peace.” I was stunned by this deep philosophical and contemplative explanation of his work. My thoughts were brought to a halt as he continued, “the colours I have chosen to work with are the ones that I find in the natural setting of this garden.”

Garden in a Garden - Pattern squared off to inspire the wrapping paper design for the gift shop. (Image: Ismailimail/AM)
Garden in a Garden – Pattern squared off to inspire the wrapping paper design for the gift shop. (Image: Ismailimail/AM)

And so, this short conversation about his work and the many hours he had spent over several days brought new meaning of art to me. Strongly resonating with the theme of The Garden of Ideas, it had me captivated. He showed me more gardens within the garden he had painted and at one point informed me, ‘this is the design they are going to use to create wrapping paper for the gift shop,” as he pointed to an area that had been squared off with masking tape.

I wished him much success as he recounted with deep appreciation what an honour it was for him to be here at the opening of the Aga Khan Museum and have his works featured both indoors and outdoors.

Inside the museum, more works of Imran are displayed as are other wonderful works by artists from Pakistan. As we strolled through the exhibit I reflected on what a novel approach he had taken to extend his work inside and outside the museum. I smiled with pride remembering his expressions and words of “garden in a garden” … it resonated well with me and I was convinced Imran is a genius. I am glad that I had met him and got to know him and his work better.

Imran Qureshi and his peers have done Pakistan proud in addition to many more who have become fans of their artwork.

About Imran Qureshi

Born in 1972 in Pakistan, Qureshi studied in Lahore at the National College of Arts with a major in miniature painting—a traditional discipline that he teaches there today. He is considered to be one of the most important contemporary artists on the subcontinent, not least because he reclaims the regionally and historically rooted discipline of miniature painting (a practice that flourished in the Mughal courts of the Indian subcontinent in the late 16th century) and transports it to the present day. His work constitutes a unique synthesis of the genre’s motifs and techniques with current issues and the formal language of contemporary abstract painting.

He is the winner of the Deutsche Bank “Artist of the Year” 2013 Award. The award “Artist of the Year” is positioned as an integral part of the Deutsche Bank art program, which has been opening up the world of contemporary art to the public for the last thirty years—through Deutsche Bank’s own substantial collection, its exhibitions, and its joint projects with partners. Each “Artist of the Year” is presented in a solo exhibition at the “Deutsche Bank KunstHalle” in Berlin. Subsequently, the exhibitions move on to other international institutions.

Imran Qureshi: Deutsche Bank “Artist of the Year” was previously shown in different forms at KunstHalle, Berlin, Museo d’arte contemporanea Roma (MACRO), Rome and Salsali Private Museum, Dubai.

His other site-specific installations in the exhibition are linked conceptually and formally to recent internationally prominent works the artist created for the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 2013, the Sydney Biennale in 2012, and the Sharjah Biennial in 2011.

Via IKON 50 | Imran Qureshi

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