Performance: Rasheed Araeen – Chakras at Bains des Pâquis, Quai du Mont-Blanc 30, 1201 Genève. Friday 24 August, 7am
Organized by Nick Aikens and Paul Bernard, the exhibition was first presented at the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven. The exhibition is supported by the Stanley Thomas Johnson Stiftung.
Spanning more than 60 years, this exhibition offers the first comprehensive survey of the work of Rasheed Araeen.
It is structured across five chapters unfolding on two levels of the museum: on the first floor are presented Araeen’s early experiments in painting in Karachi in the 1950s and early 1960s; his geometric Structures after his arrival in London in 1964; key pieces from the 1970s and 1980s following Araeen’s political awakening; and his nine panel cruciform works from the 1980s and 1990s. On the third floor, new geometric paintings are displayed in a large room alongside the participative work Zero to Infinity. Materials relating to Araeen’s writing, editorial, and curatorial projects are also presented, as well as a Reading Room, located among the collection of Minimal and Conceptual art of the museum on the 3rd floor. This unprecedented configuration stresses how much Araeen’s practice continues to challenge a Eurocentric approach to art and its modernist history.
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In the Beginning
The room presents Araeen’s early experiments in painting, drawing, and sculpture whilst he was living in Karachi, until 1964. Without a formal artistic training, Araeen’s early work depicts the places and people of Pakistan’s most populous city. By the late 1950s Araeen was exploring abstraction, working from memory and the imagination, rather than directly from life. He began using geometric forms, such as squares and triangles; he also became fascinated by ideas of fluidity, movement, and transformation embodied in water and fire and evident in his use of curved lines. These formal interests, as well as his training as an engineer, would come to play formative roles in his art work.
Geometry and Symmetry
Following his arrival in London in 1964, Araeen saw the colored metal sculpture of Anthony Caro, which he describes as having a strong effect on him. Araeen’s own Minimalist language, however, drew on geometry and symmetry. Araeen’s interest in symmetry stemmed from its lack of hierarchy with one side always being equal to the other. By the end of the 1960s Araeen became fascinated by the relationship between symmetry and asymmetry, which he saw as a defining condition of the world. He began exposing his geometric Structures and forms to human interaction and natural elements.
By 1971 Araeen had become disillusioned with the endemic racism in Britain and its art establishment. He started reading anti-colonial writers such as Frantz Fanon. In 1972, he joined the Black Panthers Movement and, from 1973 until 1975, he actively took part in the group Artistsfor Democracy, formed by David Medalla. His artwork started incorporating collage, photography, installation, performance, writing, and editing. Formal and conceptual concerns remained, such as his use of the grid and the series format. He continued producing and incorporating his geometric Structures into his work. From 1975 onwards, Araeen started using his own image, body, and the format of self-portraiture as the focus of his investigations into representation.
In Pursuit of a Significant Language
In the 1980s and 1990s Araeen found an aesthetic language that brought together his investigations into abstraction and geometry with his political concerns. His lattice reliefs, Structures, and use of monochrome were combined with photo-montages that drew on images of the artist himself or referenced contemporary socio-political events.
In the mid-1980s Araeen embarked on the Cruciform series. The use of the cross, the color green (a significant color in Islamic cultures), and a broad range of references create what has been described as a “complex allegorical space,” charting opposing but dependent ideologies and views of the world.
In 2011 Araeen returned to painting. The Homecoming series, presented alongside the recent Opus paintings, take their starting point from the names of intellectuals and mathematicians from the Abbasid era (750- 1258), the golden era of Islamic thinking. Calligraphy is treated within the formal language of painterly abstraction. As with the patterned surfaces of the Opus paintings, inspired by Islamic crafts, Araeen’s recent painting redirects modernism away from the West in the 20th century, repositioning it historically and geographically.These paintings are accompanied by two new lattice structures referencing Kazimir Malevich’s Black Square. The 64 cubes of Zero to Infinity are intended for visitors to play with and reconfigure — an invitation to use the equal properties of geometry and symmetry to create new and endless possibilities.
Reading Room, 2017
A series of documents related to projects by Rasheed Araeen are gathered in the Apartment. Among them, the conceptual diagrams combining educational, environmental, and political concerns included in his publication Art Beyond Art (2010). The book cements his long-held belief in arts capacity to bring about transformation in the world. The “living room” of the Apartment hosts a Reading Room. On top of Araeen’s Structures are issues of Third Text, the journal Araeen founded and edited from 1987-2011, for you to read. As art historian John Roberts writes, Third Text became “the primary site of debate on race, representation, and British and global culture” as well as the fields of post-colonial theory and “negritude.” The Reading Room finds here a significant echo within the Minimal and Conceptual works which surround it and invite us to interrogate the Western narratives of the modernity.