Night at the Museum with Imran Qureshi

Updated May 27, 2013


Visitors view Pakistani artist Imran Qureshi's creation, painted on the rooftop of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, during a preview of the annual Met's Roof Garden commission, in New York. – Photos  by AFP
Visitors view Pakistani artist Imran Qureshi's creation, painted on the rooftop of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, during a preview of the annual Met's Roof Garden commission, in New York. – Photos by AFP

The temperature in New York City dropped to a chilly 40 degree Fahrenheit but the warmth in the realisation that a son of the soil, Pakistan’s very own Imran Qureshi was being honored at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, was enough to keep our spirits cozy. (Click here to see more images of the artist work)

The Roof Garden Installation: Imran Qureshi opened at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 14 and remains open to public until November 3, 2013. Qureshi was commissioned to use an almost 8,000 square foot of open-air space as his canvas, and has pioneered to create a luxuriant artwork, brushing paint onto the floor of the rooftop at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New Your City.

Ian Alteveer, Associate Curator, Department of Modern and Contemporary Art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art says, “Qureshi's work appealed to us for its deep commitment to traditions of the past and its exemplary engagement with contemporary events. Using one straightforward medium – acrylic – Qureshi's installations evoke many responses, and the beautiful foliate motifs he carefully paints amidst his splatters tie the installation to the leaves of Central Park below as well as the rich landscape imagery of the Mughal miniature tradition in which he was so rigorously trained. In a world that is so sadly full of violence, we felt it was most important to commissionan artist who could address what occurs around us all with a message of regrowth and hope for peace.”

The title of the exhibit is a line from Faiz ‘On Return from Dhaka’ (Dhaka sey wapsi par) and reads Khoon ke dhabbe dhulenge kitni barsaaton ke baad (And how many rains must fall before the stains of blood are washed clean.)

The title is appropriate for the installation is in blood red acrylic medium, which actually represents the bloody and violent times we live in, and the prominent white flowers breaking from the red paint symbolizes hope – the complete embodiment and expression of the human spirit and its willingness to trust in a brighter tomorrow against all odds.

“Working at the Met was a wonderful experience. This site-specific piece was physically executed from April 26 to May 3, but we had been working and contextualising the project for a while. There was so much that needed to be discussed, the technical and physical aspect of the installation, how the work would eventually be removed once the exhibition was over,” said Qureshi when asked about the logistics of this rooftop installation. “I have been using the imagery of blood and foliage for some time, and this is my third consecutive year doing so in a site-specific installation. The first one was at the Sharjah Biennale in 2011, followed by the Sydney Biennale in 2012, and now in New York City 2013. There is a difference though, I have used the same imagery but in an entirely different context.

“When I first stepped on the rooftop of the Met, I was somewhat surprised to observe the foliage of the Central Park from this particular vantage. The perspective, eye level, placement of trees, variation of different species of trees was exactly the same as portrayed in traditional historical miniature painting. This vision had an impact on me and I decided to paint my own foliage, which is an extension of the traditional historical miniature painting, but at the same time is in keeping with the context of this space in New York City. It is different, yet so very relevant,” elaborated Qureshi on his initial vision and impressions of the site and the habitat of the foliage that surrounds it.

“The events unfolding on September 11, 2001 were heinous and New York City became a victim to unforgettable terrorism. That day forward violence and victimisation of the innocent has spread all over the world, and just as I was to start physical work on the Rooftop Garden Installation, the Boston Marathon tragedy happened. Interestingly the installation depicting blood and foliage was decided long before the despicable Boston bombing, but coincidentally became all the more relevant.

“What I heard repeatedly after the Boston events was the term finish line, and it kept taking me to my recent exhibition at the KunstHalle in Berlin, Germany, where as part of my Deutsche Bank Artist of the Year Award, 2013, I had created a very large oval shaped canvas with a folded line in the middle. I think the repetition of the term finish line unconsciously or consciously pushed me to create a line, ending the installation slightly off the expected end of the installation, thus creating a rather obvious finish line. This is an entirely new concept and I have never tried this in any of my site-specific projects before,” explained Qureshi when asked about the suddenness of the borderline of his installation.

“What was very intriguing and interesting to watch was the reaction of the invitees as they arrived to view the installation at the opening night. Upon entering the artwork space they initially hesitated to walk on the installation, and when coaxed reluctantly stepped on the project surface, gradually getting comfortable with the idea of walking on it. This somehow draws a parallel to the human psyche, especially to the mindset of the people living in Pakistan where due to a continuous series of violence people somehow start feeling uneasy without incident. This Rooftop Garden Installation works on the same line, it plays with the psyche of its patrons for when they reach a certain point where the imagery of blood and violence ends they feel uncomfortable walking off it.”

Interestingly I did the same as I was getting ready to step off the installation, Qureshi has thus made his point.

“From a certain angle the installation looks like a blood stained carpet that can be peeled off from this space. This is unlike my previous site-specific installations where I usually weave my painted imagery very strongly with the surface and architectural space I am working with. To me the installation at The Metropolitan Museum of Art appears very different from specific angles. It almost looks like it has been staged, or placed in this space and the painting almost appears artificial in its environment, making it all the more real and exact in its space. The imagery has a life of its own. If I were to compare this work to my previous site-specific projects I feel that this one has an unusual way of making dialogue between the architectural space of the rooftop and my painted imagery.”

“Like my other site-specific installations this work will also be washed off after the show is over. The very notion that this installation is temporary in its physical form gives me joy. I feel that its impermanence gives it a unique permanence,and yes it can only be viewed for a finite amount of time, but that is what makes it so different,” added Quershi.

I walked away from the artist swaying to the Pakistani pop music that echoed the halls of the Sculpture Garden at the Met. With pride and a sense of hope, I sipped the rose-water beverage specially prepared for the dreamers who hope for a better tomorrow and borrow from their magnificent historical past in anticipation of a glorious future and the promise it brings.