Risham Syed, Winning Artist, Abraaj Group Art Prize 2012
The Seven Seas, 7 quilts
In The Seven Seas Risham Syed connects the intricacies of contemporary geo-politics with the 19th and early 20th Century cotton trade of the British Empire. With fabric sourced from travels to Turkey, Bangladesh, UAE, Sri Lanka, UK, India and within her native Pakistan, Syed weaves the history of the location-specific craft of textile production with tales of political resistance. All her quilts depict 19th and 20th Century maps of various port cities that were strategically located on colonial European trade routes, such as Izmir in Turkey, Colombo in Sri Lanka, Mumbai in India, and Ras al-Khaimah in the UAE. Apart from being trade gateways, these cities were also sites of resistance and rebellion against the imperial powers. Each quilt is made by combining a variety of techniques, whilst the stitching and layering of fabric echoes the layering of historical and post-colonial narratives. The base material of all the quilts is cotton from Lahore, covered in popular – mostly European – prints, which allude to 19th century Victorian prints. Syed’s tangible, historical cartography on fabric is a means to investigate the void left by the colonial past. This lacuna is reflected in the white textiles that make up the back of the quilts: made of a variety of materials such as local Pakistani toweling, hand-woven Sri Lankan cotton, and U.K.-bought cotton that was “Made in India”.
Risham Syed’s practice critically focuses on the remains of cultural/historical inheritance and its perceived authenticity in present-day Pakistan. She received a BFA in Painting from the National College of Art, Lahore (1993) and an MA from the Royal College of Art, London (1996). Solo shows include: ‘Lahore 2010’, Rohtas Gallery, Lahore (2010), ‘And the Rest is History’, Talwar Gallery, New York (2010), Canvas Gallery, Karachi (2008).
Her work has been exhibited in group shows including: ‘The Rising Tide’, Mohatta Palace Museum, Karachi (2010-11); Art Dubai, (2010); ‘Resemble/Reassemble’; Devi Art Foundation, Gurgaon, India (2009); ‘Emperor’s New Clothes: Dress, Politics and Identity in Pakistani Art’, Talwar Gallery (2008); ‘Conversations 1’, Elementa Gallery, Dubai (2007); ‘Landscape and Outside the Cube’, National Gallery of Art, Islamabad, (2005); ‘58 Years of Pakistani Art’, Alhamra Art Gallery, Lahore (2004); ‘Playing with the loaded gun’, Apex Art, New York (2002) & Kunsthalle Fridericianum, Kassel, Germany (2004); 2nd Fukuoka Triennale, Museum of Asian Art, Fukuoka, Japan (2002); in ‘Threads, Dreams and Desires’, The Harris Museum, Preston, UK (1998). She was awarded the Stephenson Harwood Award (1996), Charles Wallace Trust Scholarship, UK (1996) and the Cite’ International des Arts, Paris, France (1995).
She is currently an Assistant Professor at the School of Visual Art, Beaconhouse National University, Lahore, Pakistan, where she continues to live and work. Risham Syed is represented by Talwar Gallery, New York, New Delhi.