Bani Abidi is one of the leading figures from a generation of Pakistani artists who trained during the 1990s and began exploring social contradictions through their artistic practice.
presents two key works by Abidi at this exhibition Karachi Series 1 (2009), a photographic investigation into, and a lament, of the loss of Pakistans diverse cultural character in the face of the Islamisation of the nations society that began in the 1980s. This work was shown for the first time at the recent Xth Lyon Biennale curated by Hou Hanru.
The second work, Intercommunication Devices (2009) is a set of digital drawings, where Abidi uses the idea of assembling a visual archive to explore exclusionary spaces, or what Itty Abraham refers to as Security aesthetics.
Intercommunication Devices explores the meeting point or threshold where power and privilege meets the disempowered and excluded. This work follows closely on from her much acclaimed Security Barriers A-L, another example of the artists engagement with exclusionary architecture and spatial controls, and was also shown at the Xth Lyon Biennale.
Karachi Series 1 consists of a series of six photographs on lightboxes, all featuring a central protagonist involved in a seemingly banal, domestic activity in the middle of a deserted street at sunset. The light, the postures of the figures and the focused calm of their activities imbue a gentle and shared melancholy to each scene. The images, and by extension the protagonists, are clearly part of a common larger narrative. The accompanying titles list names, times and places bring to the fore the common circumstances of their creation. The photographs are all taken in Karachi in the last ten days of August 2008; all at roughly 7.45pm; and the names of the individuals suggest that they are part of the non-Muslim minorities of Pakistan Christian, Parsi and Hindu. Karachi Series 1 is an exploration of the place of religious minorities in a public environment not known for its acceptance of difference. During the month of Ramadan, at sunset, (in August at roughly 7.45pm) the time when Muslims break their fast, the streets of Karachi are deserted. By venturing into the street and performing everyday tasks in public, Abidis non-Muslim subjects reclaim a time and a place where their status as equal citizens in metropolitan Karachi is not contested.
Intercommunication Devices, records the various types of intercoms found on the front gates on a street in the Defence Housing Authority, a perceptibly wealthy enclave in Karachi. They investigate the notion of intercommunication between the private space of an upper-class household and the public space of the street. The clean, almost sales catalogue-like treatment of Abidis digital drawings, faithful in every detail to the objects they describe, without providing any visual information about the surroundings from which they are extracted, is both intriguing and disarming. Reduced to their pure form, in the style of a scientific illustration or a technical drawing, they invite a closer scrutiny of their function as objects. Abidi raises a series of critically relevant questions: what do systems of control effectively do? What social environment necessitates the systematic exclusion of violent threat? Are these divisions of class and power really so binary, or are there spaces for resistance? Perhaps it is more interesting to read the spaces she creates as signifying multiple points at which the possibility of transgression exists, where barriers can be crossed and communication made possible.
Abidis work is also included in the Where Three Dreams Cross 150 years of Photography from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh at Londons Whitechapel Gallery. This exhibition runs from January 21 to As part of the events for that exhibition, there will be, at Whitechapel, an artists talk in association with Green Cardamom.
Bani Abidis videos, photographic works and drawings use elements of performance and orchestration to explore the processes of political history, popular imagination and identity formation. Abidi was born in Karachi in 1971, and currently lives between New Delhi and Karachi. She received her BFA degree from Lahores National College of Arts (NCA) in 1994 and an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1999. Her work is in the collections of the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, Japan; Devi Art Foundation, New Delhi; Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin; the Marguelies Collection, Miami and MoMA, New York.