EXHIBITION: A DIFFERENT UTOPIA

October 13, 2019

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Zhayedan Dulha, (2018)
Zhayedan Dulha, (2018)

Recently, Karachi’s Sanat Initiative inaugurated its new space with an uncompromising and charged exhibition that portends an other-worldly revolution.

Tomorrow We Inherit the Earth: Notes from a Guerrilla War features the solo works of Pakistani-Lebanese artist Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Jr. Meticulously curated by Aziz Sohail, the multifaceted display is the first time the artist’s textile pieces, performances and videos appear together in a cohesive setting.

From his investigation into the histories of resistance wars and guerrilla warfare, Bhutto creates an archive of a fictitious and futuristic revolution. The rebellion he speaks of is a queer revolution.

Drawing from the histories of resistance wars and guerrilla warfare, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Jr. creates an archive of a fictitious and futuristic queer revolution

Taking forward his exploration of tapestries, during his earlier ‘Musalmaan Muscleman’ series, Bhutto now presents these screen-printed men as strong, decorated and equipped with gas masks and weaponry, ready for an uprising. The work appropriates images of Pakistani wrestlers, men who are already opulent and celebrated but now morphed for the queer utopia. Juxtaposing the masculine physique with the delicacy of feminine embroideries and floral patterns generates a stimulating dialogue on the implications of the term ‘gender’, and how it should actually be viewed as a spectrum rather than polar opposites.

Alongside the figures, text from an Urdu translation of a children’s book starring one of Hollywood’s most historic fictional heroes, Rambo, also adorns the gallery walls. Removed from its original context, the words are now contextualised within the milieu of other visuals, and through their big, bold letters emphasise the upcoming revolution.

The artist uses various elements from Islamic history, mysticism and politics as a conduit to carry forth his imagined revolution. The decorations used on his male warriors are reminiscent of the Shia Muslim tradition of revering saints and martyrs. He also uses the maps of the cosmos by Ibn Arabi and the numerological diagrams of Arab mathematician Ahmed Al-Buni, who wrote on the esoteric value of letters. With reference to these diagrams, the artist creates visual installations that include his videos, and together they resemble a shrine for veneration.

Zhayedan Abu Nawas Ibn Quzman, (2018)
Zhayedan Abu Nawas Ibn Quzman, (2018)

In one video, titled ‘553’, Bhutto’s drag persona — Faluda Islam — emerges, as she interviews Sana’a Mehaidli, who became the world’s first female suicide bomber at the age of 17 in 1985. The work appropriates Mehaidli’s original video, where she articulates her final thoughts, and then juxtaposes the footage on a conversation with Faluda Islam — a queer fighter who was killed in battle and returns as a zombie to forewarn of the change that is afoot. The voices of Mehaidli and Faluda Islam reverberate through the gallery space and carry the message the artist’s display aims to portray.

Bhutto’s work is a project in world-building. It seems that the artist — now frustrated with the discrimination and torture that queer minorities are forced to face in the real world — has sought to create a new world where change is imminent. In a way, his art can be seen as a coping mechanism against the unrelenting harshness of the world. At the same time, it can also be taken as a forewarning to the terrorisers of the real world that there will be consequences to their actions — the martyred will rise again and with strength and unremitting force. They will fight for the justice they deserve.

“Tomorrow We Inherit the Earth: Notes from a Guerrilla War” was held at Sanat Initiative in Karachi on September 24 to October 8, 2019

Published in Dawn, EOS, October 13th, 2019