Beauty and Violence
Imran Qureshi at the Ikon Gallery

This summer, Imran Qureshi grew red and blue lotus blossoms in a meadow in Yorkshire, creating his first land art project in Great Britain for the art festival Fields of Vision, where the “Grand Départ” of the Tour de France is celebrated in Leeds. After that, the flower motifs that have become the Pakistani artist’s trademark turned up in Paris and Toronto, too. In the Canadian city, the newly opened Aga Khan Museum is dedicated to the artistic and scientific legacy of Islam. In the framework of the opening exhibition The Garden of Ideas, Qureshi covered the stone slabs around the fountain in the museum garden with his floral ornaments. In Paris, he was present with two projects at the Nuit Blanche: in the historical Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, he realized a room-sized installation, while on the banks of the Seine he decorated the Quai d’Austerlitz with a narrow band of red blossoms.

Beginning on November 19, visitors can find Qureshi’s ornaments in the Ikon Gallery, as well. The renowned exhibition space in Birmingham presents the first major show of the 2013 “Artist of the Year” in Great Britain. The exhibition, which was the inaugural show at the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle in Berlin, has already made guest appearances at the Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Roma (MACRO) and the Salsali Private Museum (SPM) in Dubai.

Beauty and violence—these are the two thematic poles that Qureshi’s work moves between. In the large-scale paintings he showed for the first time in the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle, and in the installations for the Sharjah Biennial and the roof garden of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, what at first glance looks like large pools of spilled blood turns out to be hundreds of ornamental flowers covering the floor. The artist calls them “shoots of hope”—symbols for emergence and the birth of new life.

Qureshi comes from a country that more or less embodies upheaval and unrest. Pakistan is torn by political and religious conflict, by everyday violence. But it’s also a country in a state of emergence that draws on a rich cultural tradition. This includes miniature painting, which Qureshi has taken to new expressive possibilities, combining its motifs and techniques with current themes in a unique way. The artist incorporates observations of everyday life in his native country into his work, without neglecting the fact that routine violence is a commonplace reality not only in Pakistan, but in many regions around the world.

The exhibition at the Ikon Gallery shows Qureshi’s work in all its dimensions—from poetic miniature paintings to installations that fill entire rooms. And They Still Seek The Traces of Blood, for instance, consists of a mountain of crumpled-up, apparently bloodstained paper. At a closer look, however, one notices that a work by the artist can be seen on each sheet. Qureshi’s first video work can also be seen in Birmingham. Using a special camera, he filmed a golden leaf as it floats to the floor—showing it in extreme slow motion, which lends an unreal, poetic dimension to the simple occurrence.

This year, to celebrate its 50th anniversary, the Ikon Gallery presents an especially ambitious program. The exhibition house was founded by a group of artists “as an antithesis to exclusive art establishments and galleries,” as they phrased it. At the time, exhibitions were put on in the small kiosk of a shopping center. Today, the Ikon occupies a renovated school from the late 19th century. The brick building is situated in Brindleyplace, the district where the new Deutsche Bank branch in Birmingham is located. Since the 1990s, the former industrial area in the city center has transformed into a vibrant quarter with numerous restaurants, stores, and firms in place of the abandoned factories that used to dominate the area.

Deutsche Bank has long been a partner of the Ikon Gallery; the exhibition of Yto Barrada, the 2011 “Artist of the Year,” took place here in 2012. Over the years, the house has developed from a locally oriented institution to one of the most high-profile art places outside London. Today, international art in all its various forms can be seen here. The gallery shares its aim with Deutsche Bank to bring contemporary art to as many people as possible—an aim the Ikon Gallery has always remained faithful to.

Imran Qureshi:
Deutsche Bank’s “Artist of the Year”

11/19/2014 – 1/25/2015
Ikon Gallery, Birmingham