This exhibition leads on spectacular, yet intimate works of art by recent Ashmolean artist-in-residence Ali Kazim, one of the most exciting artists working in Pakistan today.
During a residency in 2019, Kazim spent days browsing through the Museum’s South Asian collection, examining many objects in great detail.
Kazim’s engagement with the material and visual traditions – for example, how a small clay sculpture or a fingerprint can connect us, directly and viscerally, to the people who originally made and used them – encourages us in turn to reflect on how the past informs and influences the present.
One of the highlights is Kazim's five panel Conference of Birds, which is in part informed by natural history studies made by artists who worked for the East India Company in the 18th Century.
The curator has accordingly displayed a beautiful gouache-on-paper painting of a crested honey buzzard by Ram Das, originally commissioned in Calcutta by Mary, Lady Impey, wife of the Chief Justice Sir Elijah Impey, between 1777 and 1782.
Kazim's monochrome portrayal of a great flock of birds of many species launching themselves up into the sky from right to left across the five panels of Conference of Birds (shown, left), is very stark yet empathic, seeming to replace the burgeoning confidence of the imperial commission with its assumption of human mastery and control with a more fragile assessment, plus a less western idea of the collective, with the whole flock needed to achieve the flight.
This work of art began as an installation at the Lahore Biennale (2020) in which Kazim made 3000 clay birds, all sundried rather than fired. This meant that they melted in the rain as they were on display outdoors.
The curator suggests, 'Not everyone makes it in life, but everyone deserves to be remembered,' a theme played out more fully in the wider exhibition around bird migration and the hunting of those birds when they come down to rest.
The assumption of mastery by the human bird hunters may yet turn out to be false, and like the birds we all survive or perish by collective actions as much as individual ones, particularly concerning the environment.
Curated by Dr Mallica Kumbera Landrus, Keeper of the Department of Eastern Art and Senior Curator of Indian, Himalayan and Southeast Asian Art, in collaboration with the artist, the exhibition features many Ashmolean objects alongside paintings, sculptures and installations by Kazim.