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Bani Abidi talks to art enthusiasts in Karachi

An image from her work "the speech writer".

ArtNow recently invited the internationally renowned artist Bani Abidi to talk about her work as a part of it’s Springboard series held at FOMMA – Foundation for Museum of Modern Art .

Speaking to a large audience from various professions and all age groups, Abidi who is originally trained as a painter, introduced the audience to a different world she had created through her digital and video work. “A world is where imaginary and rather eccentric characters exist within a very real world where borders – and which side of it are you born into, decide your fate” – these characters become Bani’s voice in these surreal pieces.

Abidi, being a Pakistani artist living in New Delhi and married to an Indian, her work rightfully so is beautifully loaded with historical, cultural and political statements and questions. She started her talk by showing the work titled ‘The Ghost of Muhammad bin Qasim’ – digitally manipulated photographs of a young man and a recent convert to Islam, named Yusuf Masih who dresses up as Mohammad Bin Qasim and poses in front of Karachi’s famous landmarks. The detail and imagination used to shape these characters was so sharp, colorful and precise, that one would almost forget that these characters were mere figments of Abidi’s imagination.

The next work shown was an artist book titled the ‘Speech Writer’ published by Raking Leaves. For this, Abidi created a character who is a speechwriter whose ‘written it all’, but one whose work was never appreciated or used.

Bani Abidi.-Photo Courtesy Emaan Mahmud

Abidi had based this character from one of her videos where a theatre actor from Delhi every single day wore his suit and read his old speeches, which also blared from speakers wired outside his house – but no one would listen to them. Captivating the audience with this tragic-comedic character, Abidi also told the audience how the idealism and investment the older generation had put in the creation of India and Pakistan had sparked the drive to create this particular piece. She also spoke about her parents’ relationship with Pakistan, partition and how the Pakistani identity has changed over the years, and alas, how these observations and inherited emotions seep into her work.

“I feel there’s a certain kind of a disappointment and sense of loss that exists within the generation on both sides of the border – not just Pakistan,” she stated.

Having done her B.F.A from Lahore and her M.F.A from the School of Art Institute Chicago, she is currently residing in Germany. Abidi has a long and highly impressive list of places where she has shown including Centre of Art and Media Karlsruhe, White Chapel Art Gallery, London and 3rd Asian Art Triennial, Fukuoka, Japan. Her work is also a part of the many collections across the globe, some of them being, The Museum of Modern Art, New York; The British Museum London and Devi Art Foundation, New Delhi.

“Bani’s work has inspired the dynamic oral culture of South East Asian contemporary art on various levels,” stated Muhammad Zeeshan, another internationally renowned artist.

The talk concluded with an engaging conversation between Nafisa Rizvi – editor at ArtNow and Abidi.

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