On the 2nd of December 2017 the Van Abbemuseum
opened Rasheed Araeen: A Retrospective, the first comprehensive survey of the artist. The exhibition, spanning 60 years of work, presents a body of work that has had a profound influence on generations of artists, writers and thinkers. The exhibition is structured across five chapters: from his early experiments in painting in Karachi in the 1950s and early 60s, his pioneering minimalist sculptures carried out after his arrival in London in 1964, key pieces from the 70s and 80s following Araeens political awakening, his nine panel cruciform works from the 80s and 90s and a selection of his new geometric paintings and wall structures. Alongside this, material relating to Araeens writing, editorial and curatorial projects is being presented as part of an expanded artistic practice that in its scope and ambition continues to challenge the formal, ideological and political assumptions of Eurocentric modernism.
1. In the Beginning (1955 - 64)
The exhibition opens with a gallery dedicated to Araeens paintings in Karachi in the late 1950s and early 60s. With no formal training as an artist these early works reveal Araeens pivotal experiments with abstraction (Boats Towards Abstraction, 1958 - 62 and the Hyderabad series, 1962 - 63), his interest in geometry and natural forces such as water and fire, as well as his initial forays into sculpture with the twisted bicycle wheels of My First Sculpture (1959).
2. Geometry and Symmetry (1964 - 70)
The second section of the exhibition examines Araeens unprecedented contribution to minimalism. Arriving in Britain in 1964 Araeen embarked on a series of pioneering works, including his Structures and lattice pieces, which drew on his training as an engineer and his interest in geometry and symmetry, which has remained a consistent feature throughout his practice. On display are, amongst others Sculpture No. 1 and Sculpture No. 3 (both 1965-2017), the lattice works 3 Y + 3B (1968-69) and Bo0 (1969) and the structure Nine (1967), Araeens first interactive piece where viewers could re-position the painted wooden cubes in ever-changing configurations. Documentation from his performances Chakras (1969) and Triangles (1970) as well as the conceptual project Disco-Sailing (1970-73) conclude this section.
3. Becoming Political (1971 - 84)
The central galleries reveal a body of work from the 1970s and 80s that confront the politics of Imperial Britain, embodied within the British art establishment from which Araeen remained excluded. Collage, writing, performance and photography deployed in key works such as For Oluwale (1971 - 75), Paki Bastard: Portrait of an Artist as a Black Person (1977) and Preliminary Notes Towards a Black Manifesto (1975 - 77) show an artist increasingly placing himself, his politics, subjectivity and self-representation at the centre of his practice, whilst abiding by the formal rigour that has consistently defined Araeens practice. The installation Holes in the Earth (1975), not exhibited since it was originally produced, and Look Mama Macho (1984), not shown since it was exhibited in Magiciens de La Terre (Paris, 1989), also are on display from this period.
4. In Pursuit of Significant Language (1984 - 97)
The penultimate section includes a series of Araeens Cruciform works from the 1980s and 90s. Their piercing nine panels combine green monochromes with photomontage in works such as Green Painting 1 (1985), and White Stallion (1991), referencing high modernist abstraction and contemporary wars in the Gulf and Middle East. This embodies the violent cultural, ideological and military clash between east and imperial west.
5. Homecoming (Recent work)
The final room of the exhibition includes a version of Araeens Zero to Infinity (1968-2017) consisting of sixty four cubes for visitors to rearrange. Surrounding this is a series of geometric paintings from his recent Homecoming and Opus Series (2014-ongoing) as well as two new lattice reliefs.