Risham Syed is a Pakistani artist who lives and works in Lahore, the capital of the Pakistani province of Punjab, and the country’s second largest city after Karachi. In her ‘Lahore’ series, Syed documents changes in the urban landscape.
Syed draws on the refined tradition of South Asian miniature painting. Since the 1980s, this art form has seen a revival in Pakistan, particularly centred around the National College of Arts in Lahore where students are taught the refined tradition and artists have reworked the medium into new forms.
Departing from the figure as a central motif in miniature painting, Syed concentrates on empty, in-between spaces around Lahore, an ancient city tracing its origins to pre-historic myths, and has seen many transformations under Turkish, Mughal and British rule. Yet recently has witnessed increasingly rapid development and growth in Syed’s native city.
In acknowledgment of this, Syed’s paintings from her ‘Lahore’ series focus on the backs of buildings that appear blank, faceless, indeterminate, and will soon disappear. Syed deliberately chooses these spaces as they are sites that will be transformed by impending development and are not intended to be seen. They are temporary spaces, and by capturing and freezing them in these delicate paintings, Syed frames the space of change.
Through these works, Syed expresses her growing feeling of alienation in the city of Lahore, as the new compound housing schemes creating contemporary ‘desirable’ residences transform the old city into a new one. Syed’s older Lahore has become an island with new urban quarters around.
The series comments on the changing surroundings of her home city, while evaluating the role of painting in different contexts.
‘Lahore like all big metropolises in the third world has been expanding at an exponential rate in the last couple of decades. It’s the new Lahore that perhaps a person like me who has experienced the old city while growing up cannot fathom. New upper middle class quarters have emerged hurriedly over-night. I have chosen to paint the back walls of these houses that are left unfinished, usually simply cemented or covered in tar. These post-card sized paintings in acrylic question the tradition and subject matter of the history of oil painting and play on the eighteenth/nineteenth century idea of possessing exotic landscapes through painting. These postcards can be potentially carried around in a purse.’ Risham Syed, 2015
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Works by Risham Syed feature in the ‘Fine Lines’ exhibition, in the Henry and Amanda Bartlett Galleries (Gallery 6) at the Queensland Art Gallery 18 September 2021 to 22 May 2022
First exhibited in ‘The 8th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT) from 21 November 2015 – 10 April 2016
Featured image detail: Risham Syed Untitled 3 (from ‘Lahore’ series) 2015