Imran Qureshi’s exhibition The Shadows are so Deep is currently being shown at the Barbican Centre from the 18th of February to the 10th of June. The exhibition is in the Curve, which is a highly spacious room that flows round a bend. Qureshi‘s pieces worked perfectly within the large space. The miniaturist style of his work paired with the broad area worked in dialogue with one another, as well as the use of curves in his work is reflected in the space it is presented in. He commented that it would seem too “obvious” to fill a large space with a large piece of art. His smaller works were further broken up by large splatters of red. However, on closer expectation to the apparent blood splatters were intricately painted flowers. Each painting included aspects of nature such as trees and flowers with red entwined into each piece, which was mirrored and expanded in the large splatters of red on the floor and walls.
Qureshi explained how he trained as a miniaturist painter in the 1990’s. He learnt and practised the miniature tradition during his degree programme. When asked why he chose to paint in the miniature art style he explained how his teacher saw he had a talent for it and told him “you can do this, you can do this.”
However, Qureshi felt his temperament was different and was unsure about the tradition. However, his teacher proceeded to see talent in Qureshi, so Qureshi began to take it seriously and saw it as something he could “actually learn from”. He further explained how there is much criticism around miniaturist art as it seen as “only about reproducing the old traditionalist and there is no margin for creativity or expressing yourself as an artist”. Qureshi took this as a challenge and used miniaturist art to comment on social issues and push the boundaries of the tradition. He progressed by mastering the technique by learning it as in depth as he could and then slowly moved towards a different subject matter by using miniature as an “exotic tool” for current and larger social and political issues.
Upon experiencing the graphic media and aftermath of a suicide bomb in a busy market place in Pakistan, Qureshi’s work became more focused on red and themes of blood and violence. When asked which political themes he was focusing on he said “it’s about violence and terrorism all over the world, not only Pakistan, as violence is a very global thing. Whether directly or indirectly violence effects everyone in the world, even if its higher security in airports especially after events such as 9/11.” He also describes that the integration of the colour red bound up with connotations of violence is portrayed within delicate images of nature. The subtleness of the portrayal of violence almost reflects even the small ways it effects all of us.
The paintings created an intense feeling as a viewer and a certain uneasiness. Not only did the red create elements of danger but Qureshi’s paintings had elements of darkness. This was paired with the growing darkness in the room that they were hung in which created a sense of being constantly aware of your surroundings and a growing feeling of insecurity. It seemed within his paintings of nature, which usually signifies life, were elements of decay too, with often a wilted or possibly baron backdrop to the pieces.
Nature is dominant in Qureshi’s paintings. When asked what is it about nature that inspires him and his work he commented on the lines, “line matters a lot, the movement and rhythm in line. There is a lot of rhythm when I draw the lines in these kind of elements (meaning leaves) in my miniature paintings. It’s like writing something, the leaves are like telegraphy in Arabic font.” Therefore, even in Qureshi’s larger pieces of work, it is still painted in a delicate way.
Don’t worry if you can’t get to London in time to see Qureshi’s current show, because he has at least four coming up around the UK. One of which he has teamed up with his wife Aisha Khalid for a two person show. This year intends to be a busy one for Qureshi. I recommend you take the time to go and see Where the Shadows are so Deep as it was a highly thought provoking and fantastic exhibition with absolutely beautiful paintings.