A genius driven by fate — II | Political economics


RAshid Rana’s fans are huge. For many young artists, he is a friend, a philosopher and a guide, whom they consider their inspiration. The answer to my last column testifies to this fact. Several questions came to me following the publication of the first part of the article on him, challenging my description of him as someone “driven by fate”. According to the affirmation, saying that I deny him the human agency that allows everyone to make their own decisions and walk the path of their own choice. Following that logic, projecting him as someone guided and propelled by fate doesn’t do justice to the bumps Rana has been through in her life.

Rana is a maverick. These individuals create their own destiny. But this observation calls for a nuance. I don’t deny that he took his chosen path, but before he achieved prominence as a visual artist, fate acted as his rudder, as evidenced by the perspective in which he was born and grown up. Rana comes from a relatively humble background as her father was a police officer who reached retirement age as a police chief. When he was of school age, Rana was sent to a public school which had minimal facilities. Subsequently, he secured a place at the Central Model School, Lahore after going through a competitive admissions process. After matriculation, he enrolled in FC College Lahore with the aim of becoming an engineer – a goal he never achieved. Having a penchant for mathematics, he wishes to acquire expertise in architecture. He tried his luck at the National College of Arts (NCA) in Lahore, but was instead goaded into fine art, mainly because the members of the jury detected a spark in him that they felt was crucial for painting. He therefore landed in the fine arts and excelled there. In the meantime, Rana also tried to join the army at her father’s request but was not selected. Fate intervened and nudged him in the direction that would ultimately lead him to become one of the country’s most prominent entertainers. Rana is a self-taught person, but he doesn’t seem to have the entitlement and self-righteousness that self-taught people usually have. Moreover, there is no trace of bitterness in his temper.

As already mentioned in the first part of this article, Zahoor ul Akhlaq was Rana’s first inspiration. Raphaël is another artist he admires. Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, known as Raphael, was an Italian painter and architect of the High Renaissance. His work is admired for its clarity of form, ease of composition, and visual realization of the Neo-Platonic ideal of human greatness. This is the fundamental reason for his admiration for Raphael – most famous for his paintings of which Madonna in the meadow (1505/06), School of Athens (c. 1508–11), Sistine Madonna (1512/13), The Transfiguration (1516-1520), and Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione (c. 1514–15).

It is important to mention that alongside her signature artistic practice, Rana coined the term EART which needs to be elaborated. EART refers to times when self-expression transcends the arts. They are creative impulses applied to ways of thinking and acting in real life. An exhibition at the Dantzic Building in central Manchester in July 2021 explored how EART could be applied to a variety of everyday situations. It presents new ideas with utopian aspirations that can still be realized in the form of planetary enterprises, thus suggesting a change from within the system; LESS Glocal, a concept store selling essential groceries suggests the possibility of a world without paid advertising; 1001 spirits Glocal, a concept for a new social media app designed by Rana that provides a structure for the democratization of expression through social media. Quit Glocal it is a development that presents a new way of life that celebrates the decompartmentalization of the different components of urban life as its main objective. Of these three concepts, UNMIS Glocal groceries was physically carried out in Manchester at 10 Hanover Street. Unbranded “subversive” designs have highlighted the powerful role brand plays in consumer choices. Through the store, Rana aimed to eliminate this power and save on advertising costs, ultimately transferring its benefit to the consumer. Ultimately, whether it’s social media, real estate development, or a chain of grocery stores, ideas, if realized on a global scale, can disrupt “capitalism and consumerism.”

Rana translated her idea into reality by transforming the architecture. He created the exterior of the Pakistan Pavilion at Expo Dubai, making the nation proud. “The Pakistan Pavilion is considered by many, including CNN, to be one of the main attractions of the expo.”

Let’s move on to the theoretical aspect of Rashid Rana’s artistic practice. He says, “My initial interest in the duality of space (Untitled Series/Grid painting, early 1990s) then morphed into a broader interest in duality, paradoxes, contradictions, polarities and parallel realities (works from 2002 to 2009), [which was] a way of coping with the burden of representing reality. He believes that “these dualities are very effective as a tool to tone down the drama of assumed absolutes and negate them as they often draw attention to their own absurdity and thus the use of doubles, mirrors, etc.” However, in 2004 he believed that every image, idea and truth (ancient or modern) encompasses its opposite within itself. Thus, “we can say that we live in a state of duality”. This internal conflict translates into his work on a formal level – as well as geographical, historical and political overtones.

Now he feels that East and West binaries are often overplayed, binaries of ‘real’ and ‘distant’ are more plausible. The real is at hand – something that can be experienced directly with the body as a place of knowing. The “distant” is knowledge accumulated indirectly, from various sources dispersed in time and space. The result is a meditation on place, both in the physical and temporal sense.

Rana has participated in more than 80 exhibitions. He is the first living artist to have been the subject of a “monographic investigative exhibition” at the prestigious Musée Guimet Paris. In 2015, his work was included in a landmark exhibition titled The British Museum’s Treasure of the World, held at the National Museum of Singapore. Along with Rana’s work, the exhibit featured 239 objects from throughout human history. In 2013, an exhibition of his work was held at Mohatta Palace Museum, Karachi, which was the largest exhibition ever held in Pakistan by a single artist. His works are part of various public and private collections, including the British Museum in London, the Metropolitan Museum in New York and the Fukuoka Museum, Japan. Rashid Rana received the Game Changer Asia Award from the Asia Society in 2017 and was named International Artist of the Year by SAVAC Canada in 2003. Recently, the Pakistani government awarded him a Sitara-i-Imtiaz. It seems too little and too late for a person of his stature.

The author is a history teacher and writer. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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