Updated 30 Apr 2017


And They Still See Traces of Blood, Imran Qureshi and Aisha Khalid
And They Still See Traces of Blood, Imran Qureshi and Aisha Khalid

In the world of art, Imran Qureshi is a name that needs no introduction. He was commissioned to do the roof terrace at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The Barbican in London commissioned him to create a new body of work for The Curve. He is the recipient of the “Artist of the Year” by the Deutsche Bank Award and his work has been displayed at art galleries across the globe. His wife, Aisha Khalid, is no less. Having exhibited her work in art galleries in New York, London, Manchester, Hong Kong, Toronto, Lahore, New Delhi and other major cities across the world, she is a recipient of the People’s Choice category of the Jameel Prize in 2011. Imagine what happens when these two team up to put up a show.

“Two Wings to Fly, Not One” is a joint exhibition by the power couple and ace artists Imran Qureshi and Aisha Khalid that opened at Pakistan National Council of Arts in Islamabad recently. Curated by Zahra Khan, this is the celebrated miniaturists’ first joint exhibition at a museum in Pakistan. Inspired by the famous Rumi line, “Two Wings to Fly, Not One” explores the different socio-political and historical narratives related to Pakistani society.

The exhibition includes 65 pieces — 63 paintings and video works with two outstanding installations — that leave a lasting impact on the viewer. The opening day of the exhibition ended with an art performance by Aisha Khalid, which was the first performance piece of her career.

Imran Qureshi and Aisha Khalid explore different socio-political narratives in a landmark show

The exhibition displays sculptures, paintings, interactive videos, elaborate artist books, intricate miniature paintings on wasli paper and complex wall installations. The highlight of the show is a large site-specific installation titled ‘And They Still See Traces of Blood’ named after a verse by Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Qureshi uses 30,000 sheets of paper to create this larger-than-life installation that stands on the outdoor amphitheatre of the museum and is bound to catch art lovers’ attention. It reflects violence, extremism, bloodshed and the lives lost but if one goes closer and looks at the crumpled papers that have red colour spilled on them, one can find flowers and rays of hope as well.

The works displayed at the exhibition try to portray the country’s energetic contemporary culture where nationalism, strength, faith and optimism endure the harsh realities of inequality, injustice and extremism. Every piece in the exhibit is socially and politically charged and is telling a story — some of which may be harsh but showcase the reality. The most striking element of this exhibition is how Imran Qureshi and Aisha Khalid have worked together to create masterpieces. Aisha’s addition of gold to Qureshi’s portrayal of the reality through dark tones creates some stunning artwork.

When asked why violence is reflected so evidently in his work, Qureshi said that as an artist, he couldn’t close his eyes to the harsh realities of life in our country. “I’m actually trying to show two perspectives. When you look at the works from afar, you’ll see bloodshed and violence, but when you come closer you’ll find a ray of hope somewhere in the artworks whether in the form of a bright shade or a floral pattern,” he adds.

When We Thought Of You, You Were Not There (2017), Imran Qureshi and Aisha Khalid
When We Thought Of You, You Were Not There (2017), Imran Qureshi and Aisha Khalid

The curator of the exhibition Zahra Khan says that her favourite piece of the exhibition was ‘Two Wings to Fly, Not One’ — a piece that has been especially made for this show where both Qureshi and Khalid took a panel and worked on it and then exchanged it to work on the other, creating an amalgamation of their works.

An interesting aspect of the exhibition is that children who are art students in KP and Quetta have come down to Islamabad to help Qureshi build the installation. It has been a life-changing experience for those students to come to the capital and work with such a senior artist. They aspire to be like him one day. And to create art.

“Two Wings to Fly, Not One” is being displayed at the Pakistan National Council of Arts in Islamabad from April15 till May 31, 2017

Published in Dawn, EOS, April 30th, 2017