Interview with Pakistani artist Rashid Rana

There is a lot of potential in pop kitsch, Bollywood and posters of art sold on the streets of Lahore, says Rashid Rana, a celebrated Pakistani painter-turned-photographer who has "zoomed in on blood and skin" in his latest works.

"Blood, violence and sex are global symbols which can be put in a local context, they sell. I tried to convey what lies between flesh and blood – collected from a variety of sources, even fashion magazines," Rana, 42, who is exhibiting his art in India, told IANS in an interview here.        

"I have zoomed in on the blood and skin, reduced them and put the images together in Mark Rothko-style abstract frames. They look spiritual from far, but as one goes close, we see the reality of our times."        

The artist, who has exhibited his latest works in Mumbai as well as London, feels the coming of new age mediums like video and installations "allows him a better and micro look at local realities for a world audience".        

"In the early 1990s, I used to be content if five people could relate to my work, but gradually there has been a shift in my approach to capture broad visual and pop cultures as potential subjects since the late 1990s.        

"I realised that that there is so much potential in pop kitsch, Bollywood, textbooks, posters of art sold on the streets of Lahore, impressionistic paintings – all kinds of material that can be re-assembled to take on. They can be identified easily," Rana said.        

The Lahore-based artist is in India in connection with an exhibition, "Resemble, Reassemble" – a pictorial diary of change and experiments in contemporary art in Pakistan by 45 young artists at the Devi Art Foundation museum-cum-gallery of arts in Gurgaon.        

In candid admission, the artist said "he felt light after moving out of absolute originality".        

"I dismissed the notion as soon as I realised it was easier to borrow quotes and imageries from movies and books.        

"I borrowed quotes for titles in works like ‘When He Said I Do, He Did Not Say What He Did’ from Christian mythology, pictures of Arnold Schwarzenegger from his movie ‘Commando’, images of Iraq and Afghan wars, ‘True Lies’ and ‘The World Is Not Enough’ from the James Bond movie," Rana said.        

Explaining his process of personal growth, the artist said "in the eighties he did not know where he was going".        

"But now we are less burdened with the load of having to deal with the issue of identity. Artists now have more freedom to work and don’t have to assert stylistic idioms to assert identity. You don’t have to create ornate works – the trademark of South Asia – any more," Rana said.        

Rana, who studied at the National College of Art at Lahore in Pakistan, has a master’s degree in fine arts from the Massachusetts College of Art in the US and a degree in fashion design from Paris.        

He is known for his attention to forms which he describes "as a reclamation of the post-war American style".        

"I was trained to be a painter, but my work gradually evolved into photography because of the abundance of images around us. I just had to take them and re-arrange them in a manner to communicate," Rana said.        

The artist loves miniatures. It is reflected in most of his compositions. "But I am not interested in the distant past (traditional miniatures). I have learnt to look at miniatures from my teacher and guru Zahoor-ul-Akhlaq, the legendary artist, who has dealt with modern socio-political realities issues in his miniatures.        

"I consciously try to reclaim post-war American art – the flatness of paintings, use of grids, the two-dimensional planes and fuse them in a fluid way," Rana said.        

He is currently preparing for two group shows, "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Where Three Dreams Meet: 150 Years of Photography from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka".        

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at        

–Indo-Asian News Service

By Madhusree Chatterjee

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