Seher Shah’s “The Black Star,” 2007

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.


Seher Shah. The Black Star. 2007. Portfolio of 12 digital prints. Composition (each): 11 x 19″ (27.9 x 48.2 cm); sheet (each): 16 15/16 x 21 7/8″ (43 x 55.5 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Fund for the Twenty-First Century. © 2016 Seher Shah

Seher Shah. The Black Star. 2007. Portfolio of 12 digital prints. Composition (each): 11 x 19″ (27.9 x 48.2 cm); sheet (each): 16 15/16 x 21 7/8″ (43 x 55.5 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Fund for the Twenty-First Century. © 2016 Seher Shah
Seher Shah. The Black Star. 2007. Portfolio of 12 digital prints. Composition (each): 11 x 19″ (27.9 x 48.2 cm); sheet (each): 16 15/16 x 21 7/8″ (43 x 55.5 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Fund for the Twenty-First Century. © 2016 Seher Shah
Seher Shah. The Black Star. 2007. Portfolio of 12 digital prints. Composition (each): 11 x 19″ (27.9 x 48.2 cm); sheet (each): 16 15/16 x 21 7/8″ (43 x 55.5 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Fund for the Twenty-First Century. © 2016 Seher Shah
Seher Shah. The Black Star. 2007. Portfolio of 12 digital prints. Composition (each): 11 x 19″ (27.9 x 48.2 cm); sheet (each): 16 15/16 x 21 7/8″ (43 x 55.5 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Fund for the Twenty-First Century. © 2016 Seher Shah
Seher Shah. The Black Star. 2007. Portfolio of 12 digital prints. Composition (each): 11 x 19″ (27.9 x 48.2 cm); sheet (each): 16 15/16 x 21 7/8″ (43 x 55.5 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Fund for the Twenty-First Century. © 2016 Seher Shah
Seher Shah. The Black Star. 2007. Portfolio of 12 digital prints. Composition (each): 11 x 19″ (27.9 x 48.2 cm); sheet (each): 16 15/16 x 21 7/8″ (43 x 55.5 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Fund for the Twenty-First Century. © 2016 Seher Shah
Seher Shah. The Black Star. 2007. Portfolio of 12 digital prints. Composition (each): 11 x 19″ (27.9 x 48.2 cm); sheet (each): 16 15/16 x 21 7/8″ (43 x 55.5 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Fund for the Twenty-First Century. © 2016 Seher Shah
Seher Shah. The Black Star. 2007. Portfolio of 12 digital prints. Composition (each): 11 x 19″ (27.9 x 48.2 cm); sheet (each): 16 15/16 x 21 7/8″ (43 x 55.5 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Fund for the Twenty-First Century. © 2016 Seher Shah
Seher Shah. The Black Star. 2007. Portfolio of 12 digital prints. Composition (each): 11 x 19″ (27.9 x 48.2 cm); sheet (each): 16 15/16 x 21 7/8″ (43 x 55.5 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Fund for the Twenty-First Century. © 2016 Seher Shah
Seher Shah. The Black Star. 2007. Portfolio of 12 digital prints. Composition (each): 11 x 19″ (27.9 x 48.2 cm); sheet (each): 16 15/16 x 21 7/8″ (43 x 55.5 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Fund for the Twenty-First Century. © 2016 Seher Shah

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