For many people the tile patterns of Islamic geometry are a lost tradition. In Islamic art this ‘sacred geometry’ was considered as the unifying intermediary between the material and the spiritual world with artists willingly subordinating their individuality to the impersonal beauty of the work. When artist Aisha Khalid initiated her miniature practice with burqa clad images of female bodies and metaphorical suggestions of purdah through distended or drawn curtains, she layered her grounds with chromatically striking repeat patterns found on the mosaic floorings of her childhood home. At this point in time she had no realisation of the direction in which her work would eventually evolve.
Today, Khalid’s earlier fascination with the surface beauty and chromatic charm of tile pattern has matured into a deeper understanding of the inherent rhythms of geometric form. Mastering regular division of plane using, in particular triangular or square grids, she attempts to create a meditative space through which she can explore her own experiences of life and spirituality. A current exhibition, ‘Larger than life’, at Corvi Mora Gallery, London, comprises six new paintings swathed edge to edge in the minutely worked square/triangle network. As in her previous exhibition Khalid again resorts to an enormous scale, (from 92 x 46 inches and above, in gouache on vasli) and is again drawn to the image of the veiled figure, but in this new series the figure behind the veil is the artist's own self.
Centralising on the veil and its mystical associations, Khalid places her ‘self’ within or behind her iconic burqa and purdah (curtain) imagery. Making intelligent use of illusion creating pattern, colour and space she is able to project the ‘self’ form as an appearing and dissolving image. This shows the artist’s spiritual quest from several perspectives.
All initiatory truths are veiled and the varied levels of transcendence fluctuate between the seen and the unseen. Leaning on the Sufi doctrine, “Man attains to reality only by passing away from his illusory self and subsiding in his real self,” she plays with faint and blurred imagery to suggest the dissolution of unreal self. The ‘cutting’ and dividing of the veiled images reflects the struggle and pain associated with the process of annihilation. The luminous circular and flaming segments signify areas of cognition and heightened feeling. Her severe chromatic choices are limited to green, black and gold with reference to the Kaaba and illuminated Quranic manuscripts.
Among the pioneers who reinvented the miniature as a contemporary genre in the late ’90s, Khalid’s continuous attention to intricate detail and precision in her work relates to the original miniature mannerism. But her deliberate shift towards repetitive geometric pattern on a mega scale defines a keen desire to travel beyond the ordinary. The current works, devoid of pictorial imagery, have an overwhelming emphasis on symmetrical design.
She associates this repetitive exercise of a measured proportionate workmanship with a state of tranquillity to which she aspires. Equilibrium is a characteristic spiritual quality in Islam and in cyclic terms its geometrical crystallisation is a result of this equilibrium.
Moreover, according to one definition, Sufism shaped by the understanding of Islamic mysticism is founded on the idea of universal geometry. In Islamic mysticism, it has been accepted that when we start with numbers, mathematics is the source of all universal laws. The square, which is defined by the number four, is the ideal symbol. Circle, which is seen as the most powerful symbol in the universal unity, defines an infinite composition around a centre. Visual components shaped by the philosophy of Islamic mysticism are generally reflected in contemporary art by geometric and calligraphic styles.
With numerous solo and group showings at home and abroad to her credit, Khalid is a documented representative of contemporary Pakistani art on the international circuit. Earning the Alice Award and the Public Voice Award at the Alice Awards in Belgium for the category ‘Artist Book’ for her book, Name class subject, is the most recent global recognition of her talent.
The artist book was exhibited at the Gandhara-art 'Pattern to follow' exhibition as well as the Victoria and Albert Museum's Jameel Prize Exhibition. Reflecting the tremendous evolution of contemporary art, the Alice Awards launched in 2011, is a unique peer-to-peer award whereby members of the Global Board of Contemporary Art recognise excellence in various fields of contemporary art linking artists, curators, critics, museum directors, gallery owners and other professional in a network stretching around the globe.
Aisha Khalid’s Corvi Mora exhibition will be followed by a solo public show at Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester. Describing it as “a huge public gallery like museum”, she discloses that “they are going to open three shows together on October 5th 2012.” Besides Khalid’s solo, the other shows feature David Hockney and Jane and Louise Wilson.