Fabricating-Economies: 50 Saudi Riyal and Shredded Various US dollars, 2020
Fabricating-Economies: 50 Saudi Riyal and Shredded Various US dollars, 2020

The phrase ‘made of money’ acquires a new and literal connotation in a recent solo show at Karachi’s Canvas Gallery. Cut from the Same Cloth, displays the works of Abdullah M.I. Syed and his signature banknotes as both image and medium. The artist establishes a layered commentary on geopolitics, capitalism, nationalism and religion, drawing connections that highlight the mechanisms of power.

The show brings together an extensive survey of old and newly commissioned works with five different series of works linked through the artist’s exploration of the commonalities between paper and fabric as natural materials comprising fibre. There are other commonalities visible on various interlaced planes, commonalities between economies, nations, religions and between art and craft. Flags and national colours are merged on to a singular surface, banknotes are weaved and hybridised in a critique of the established systems of global hierarchy.

‘Cut from the Same Cloth: Qaumi Taranah, The National Anthem of Pakistan’ is a large flag presented in the form of a protest banner, bearing the colours of Pakistan flanked by the American and Australian (the artist’s country of residence) blue and red. It appears to be a sombre take on current world politics, as the title suggests; all are one and the same even as we embrace and proudly chant the national anthem.

Chairman Mao In A Bottle, 2020
Chairman Mao In A Bottle, 2020

‘The Weaving Myths and Realities’ series makes a similar point but with uncirculated banknotes that are hand cut, collaged and weaved together. The image of currency from various nations represents economies and capitalism as mechanisms of power, control and global influence. Whereas micro images within each work, of icons and heroes, architecture, history and religious symbols, are markers of national identity. Spliced and fused together, they bring all within the same ranks; China, India, Pakistan, the UK and the US all become interchangeable, the Quaid-i-Azam melds into the Queen of England and Chairman Mao. All are part of the same agenda and vested interests the artist seems to say, either pulling the strings or bought and paid for.

Abdullah M.I. Syed uses banknotes and flags to comment on the mechanisms of power

Weaving Overlapped Realities: 100 Pakistani Rupee and 10 Chinese RMB (Portraits, Recto), 2020
Weaving Overlapped Realities: 100 Pakistani Rupee and 10 Chinese RMB (Portraits, Recto), 2020

‘The Fabricating Economies’ brings another dimension to the debate. The shredded decommissioned US banknotes are weaved together with gold and silver thread to create miniature rugs/tapestries, combining contemporary art motifs with crafts and drawing connections between capitalism and handcrafted textiles. The work alludes to trade relations between South Asia and the US which largely comprise of the textile industry, and the resulting interdependencies, exploitations, economic warfare and the destruction of local handicrafts in the name of profit. Syed himself works with craftspeople from Pakistan, Bangladesh and the US.

The show asks some tough questions about the connections between politics and economies, and the currency of religion and nationhood that challenge our notions of nationalism.

“Cut from the Same Cloth” was on display at Canvas Gallery in Karachi from February 18 to February 27, 2020

Published in Dawn, EOS, March 22nd, 2020

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