Last year in the exhibition Scenes for a New Heritage: Contemporary Art from the Collection, we had the opportunity to show a selection of works from The Black Star (2007), a portfolio of twelve digital prints by Seher Shah (Pakistani, born 1975). Though acquired in 2008, the work was exhibited for the first time in this exhibition, in a gallery devoted to the suggestion of using the past as a means of interrogating the present.
Though she was born in Karachi, Shah’s life has been a peripatetic one. She moved to Brussels at the age of two, and later spent time in the United Kingdom before moving to the United States. Her adolescent years were spent in New York, and followed by a move to Providence, where she studied architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design. Today she lives and works in New Delhi, and continues to travel extensively, resulting in a personal and specific cultural mash-up that blends elements from the various and varied places in which she has lived and studied.
Shah’s oeuvre to date consists primarily of works on paper, including digital prints and drawings that reflect her architectural studies. In The Black Star project, the layering of images encompasses minutely detailed architectural renderings, intricately wrought drawings referring to the miniature tradition, snippets of Mughal portraiture, and her own snapshots from her ongoing archive. Shah’s works create unique tensions: she includes concrete references, such as Mecca’s holiest site, the Kaaba, but her images possess a dreamlike lack of specificity overall; their beauty is tough and hard-edged, devoid of any exotic palette in favor of a nearly monochromatic one; and the images seem both historical and relentlessly of the moment. The reappearance of forms and figures in different sheets from the portfolio hint at a story and cast of characters that are viewed through a personal lens, but the images resist the soft focus of nostalgia and our desire to unravel a suggested narrative. Here, the technique is a perfect fit for the project, incorporating digital tools that have allowed the artist to easily collect and catalogue the recurring elements of her lexicon, and to layer the various elements of her source material.
Shah has moved in new directions since she made The Black Star in 2007. A visit to her studio in Delhi revealed that she is continuing to reexamine recent history and India’s modernist architectural legacy, in the form of small sculptures and woodblock prints, as well as in monumental, architecturally inspired drawings.
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