The genius of Imran Qureshi’s Roof Garden Commission at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is in the reaction it garners

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Pakistani artist Imran Qureshi‘s Roof Garden Commission installation opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art recently and seems to incite different reactions from various viewers depending on how much they look into the work. Many are disgusted by what they perceive and venture no further, while those who do generally experience delight by what they find.

Being an artist who specializes in miniatures, large-scale installations seem to be the polar opposite of Qureshi’s forte. However, he seems to be at home with these pieces and incorporates themes from his niche into these depictions of chaos and violence, themes of hope.

Qureshi was awarded Deutsche Bank’s Artist of the Year for 2013 for work within the same theme and recently and has had a similar installation as that at the Met at the Bait Al Serkal in Sharjah.

At first sight, one only sees seems to be a bloodied rooftop baking under the sun. Now most people will stop right here, especially when viewing a photograph of the installation. They will see the bloodied rooftop that looks like the aftermath of some heinous act, be repulsed by it, and will leave it at that. The result is exactly that; most reactions online where people can see just an aerial view call it disgusting and insensitive, compare it to blobs of red waste products or spittle or just deem it a waste of space thinking it is merely red splashes of paint.

However, a closer look at the installation reveals that what seems like splashes of blobs are in actuality thousands of intricately detailed and lovingly painted petals and tendrils of red lotus flowers – but to see this, you do need to look closer.

The idea behind the installation is a reaction to the 2010 Lahore bombings, the city where Qureshi works as an assistant professor in miniature art, which resulted in the death of over fifty people and injury of scores more. However, it is a reflection of all such abhorrent acts the world over. From the Met’s webpage about this installation, Qureshi is quoted saying, “these forms stem from the effects of violence, they are mingled with the colour of blood, but, at the same time, this is where a dialogue with life, with new beginnings and fresh hope starts”

It feels more than just that, we see such acts and deem them disgusting and or ignore them, in essence we desensitize ourselves and write off what we perceive as bloody and gory; we do not look deep down to the flowers there who have suffer, persevere, and bloom there. I feel that the installation acts as a mirror to the aversion and apathy of people who are far removed from these atrocities and invites them to look closer. As the very theme that it represents it repulses many and draws in a handful, and in doing so the point Qureshi is trying to make becomes becomes a personification of the issues that are being portrayed.

In a very Pakistani context, I am reminded of Brian Jose’s comments on this visit to Pakistan (http://www.nefa.org/blog/center_stage_blog/impressions_pakistan) and his sheer delight when he realized that the people of Pakistan are very different from how he had perceived them. One hopes that such artwork will also open up dialogue between different cultures, starting first with the people who look deeper and see the flowers.

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