According to the artist Imran Qureshi, Perylene Maroon is the exact color of human blood. He probably squeezes out hundreds if not thousands of tubes of the acrylic paint each year. How can living breathing people be wiped away without a trace? As a boy in Pakistan, Qureshi listened to a tinny radio as the political activist poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz recited “And They Still Seek The Traces of Blood” a poem calling for outraged attention to bodies buried without official investigation:
No sign of blood: no trace of red,
Not on the edge of a knife, none on the point of a sword.
The ground is without stains, the ceiling white.
The remarkable exhibition, including an installation by the same title as the poem, is the result of Qureshi’s appointment as 2013 Deutsche Bank Artist of the Year and is visiting Salsali Private Museum in Dubai. The choice of title and obsession with Perylene Maroonare a direct result of the artist’s exposure to the brutal 2010 terrorist attacks on two Lahore mosques.
As a way to share the feelings of helplessness and squander that come after terrorism, the artist has used the color to create a series of large-scale installations all over the world, including the courtyard of Sharjah Art Foundation at the 2011 Biennial and more recently, the roof garden of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. At the rear of Salsali, a crew of workers crumpled more than 21,000 sheets of paper into a mountain. Each sheet is printed with Qureshi’s flowers. The delicacy of the flowers, clearly formed from a puddle of blood can be seen to represent the futility of violence and power mongering and the pure waste of life and love that is the result.
‘They Shimmer Still,’ a diptych in glowing gold in the main gallery, create a religious mood akin to visiting a medieval European cathedral. However, upon closer examination it becomes clear that these icons are also smeared in Perylene Maroon, creating a palpable tension between the bodily and the holy. Qureshi is considered a master of the neo-miniature, and the control and precision that is part of that tradition is evident in the brushwork on the diptychs.
The artist’s miniatures are installed on the far wall and upstairs as well. Although he was trained in the traditional style and still instructs students at Lahore’s National College of Arts (barefoot on the floor, wasli paper in hand, dipping a squirrel hair brush into a mussel shell pallet), Qureshi challenged the form and his miniatures sometimes don’t even feature a human subject at all. Others, like the self-portrait in which the artist sniffs a rose amidst dancing dragonflies, add elements of hope and optimism to the show.
The fact that this exhibition was brought to Dubai in the first place is a sign that the city has arrived as a major international arts hub. Salsali is the first private museum in the region and entry is open to the public and entirely free. It’s wonderful to find such a top quality show in Dubai and without an admissions fee attached at that. Let’s hope that this is a good omen of the scope of work to come and that the installation somehow figures into the upcoming Art Dubai events next month and can be extended.
Plan a visit Salsali Private Museum on Alserkal Avenue here.
Read a translation of “And They Still Seek The Traces of Blood” here.
Image Credits: Courtesy of the artist and Salsali Private Museum