Pop South Asia: Artistic Explorations in the Popular is one of the first major exhibitions to provide a substantial survey of modern and contemporary art from South Asia engaging with popular culture. Spanning works from the mid-twentieth century to the present, the exhibition will showcase artists addressing complex issues facing the self and society through irony, play and humour.
Weaving an intergenerational dialogue through more than 100 artworks by artists from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the diaspora, Pop South Asia navigates multiple and diverse themes. The exhibition spotlights artists who intervene in the aesthetics of print, cinematic and digital media, alongside those engaging with devotional practices, crafts and folk culture; it presents artists addressing modes of local capitalism, from large-scale industries to vernacular ‘bazaars’, in company with those commenting on identity, politics and borders.
Expanding the conventional canon of Pop Art, understood in the Western context primarily as art that addresses consumer culture and the media image, the exhibition foregrounds multiple layers and ideas embedded within the ‘popular’ in South Asia. Pop South Asia brings to light knowledge and research relevant not only to South Asia, but also to parallel regions across the world, equally shaped by forces of capitalism and media as they continue to modernise and urbanise.
Seher Shah investigates perspectives and narratives embedded in architecture, landscape and public space through drawing, printand sculpture. She abstracts these underlying tensions into hybrid compositions using bold geometrics, reinterpreted symbols, traditional motifs and intricate markings to reveal the contested relationships between history, iconography, memory and time.
The Black Star Project (2007) draws on relationships between ornament, structure and architectural abstraction. Combining drawing and digital collage, the twenty-five prints explore visual translations and meanings within the geometry of a square. Architectural methods of representation, such as plans, elevations and perspective drawings, explore shifting forms from two to three dimensions on paper. Repetitive patters and adornment drawn alongside hard-edged structures speak to the fraught relationship between ornament and abstraction. Within the work, the colour black evokes states of mourning or lamentation through its visual stillness and depth.
Cities have played a critical role for the artist as sites of complexity and contradiction. The work was created in the mid-2000s in New York, a time of heightened surveillance, alongside new orientalist narratives amplified by the American invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. These narratives have worked against the complex nature of multiplicity, creating one-dimensional viewpoints of community and belonging. The work uses drawing to speak to the multiple meanings we project onto structues, symbols and cultural iconographies.