Viewers find a certain delight in the works of Rashid Rana. The Pakistani artist is primarily known for his style of stitching together thousands of digital images of deliberate provocation to form a single image of seeming innocuousness. Take for instance, his “Veil Series”, where pixellated images of porn were placed mosaic-style to form images of women in burkhas. The delight, of course, is partly in discovering the deception afoot, which saddled with all the socio-political implications of porn and Islam and feminism, make for a titillating message.
It’s something that the viewer is likely to “get” whether or not he’s versed in current Pakistani politics, and such is their intrinsic appeal that the Lahore-based Rana has managed to remain both immensely popular and critically loved. Here, in Mumbai for his two-gallery show “Apposite/Opposite”, the 44-year-old Rana lures the viewer in with the same sense of familiarity—we see his mosaic images, recognise the larger form (it’s a horse!) or the smaller stich (it’s a Caravaggio!)—but then having earned our trust, he proceeds to screw with us entirely.
We’re subject to this, for instance, in “Anatomy Lessons Series 3”, which is on display at Chemould Prescott Road gallery (the Chatterjee & Lal leg of the show will open later this week): art history students might recognise it as a detail from Michiel Jansz Van Miereveld’s “Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Willem van der Meer” (everyone else, take a gander at the original here), which shows a naked male body, dissected by a doctor and his students. The work flickers gently on a flatscreen TV, its canvas made up of hundreds of moving images culled from CCTV footage, films and documentaries.
You can just about make out grainy scenes of violence, some of people in an arid landscape of no discernible geographic location, some Big Brother-ly shots of people on streets, doing apparently nothing more than walking. It’s a weird mix of a kind of academic butchery and violence of a more insiduous kind, which through the placement of surveillance presupposes our nature to be bad.
Whatever you do, don’t leave without spending some time with “Desperately Seeking Paradise II”, a mirrored grid installation that from a certain viewpoint reveals itself to be a skyline. Rana says the buildings are an amalgam of various American and European city skylines that are in turn composed of thousands of images of houses in Lahore. It’s the recognition of one kind of trope—the physical might of Western architecture and in turn its economy—layered on a trope of another kind—of something distinctly homegrown, situated in a distinctly Islamic context—that tugs at the conceit that it’s the subcontinent that’s always at the mercy of a Western lens.
In fact, it suggests quite the reverse, that we can’t always be sure who falls under whom in the hierarchy of world order. It also confronts us with the possibility that even though Pakistan, and indeed India, might peg their future prospects on turning into the swanky first-world countries they aspire to become, they’re still just specks, part of the same global mass of humanity