Text Embodied: Transformation of Text into an Experience of Art


Twelve Gates Arts invites you to explore the breadth of contemporary text-based art being produced through the work of ten South Asian artists. The artists embody the written word into their work, such that it is not just the main ingredient, but also the medium. The treatment of text as image goes back to early Islamic history, as well as being a theme in many other calligraphic traditions, not least that of East Asia.

The transformation of text from art set in the medium of time (such as poetry) to art set in the medium of space (such as sculpture) allows the viewer/audience to absorb it all at once while simultaneously allowing one to read the work sequentially.The inclusion of political, social, and even personal concepts utilizing text have come a long way since the culmination of the contemporary calligraphic art movement in the 1980s (in Pakistan), for which Rashid Araeen can be called the pioneer of text-based art. The artists in “Text Embodied” have, in more recent times, brought text back to personal but interrogatory space ~ and yet still can be connected to tradition.

Amina Ahmed’s works, Grief and Sorrow brings us back to prayer, we fall to our knees and lose all sense of the self, giving in, to the loss that takes over our mind and our body. The heart in its heaviness returns to that primal prayer space and allows us to fall into the fetal position without us even knowing. Amina holds a BFA from Winchester School of Art and an MFA from Royal College of Art in Visual Islamic and Traditional Art. She is currently a member of the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts NY.

Amir Parsa’s scroll chronicles an attempt at the translation of one quatrain from the Robaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Part of a larger R/O/K translation project, this “litstill” fashions a poetics of incompleteness and participatory cumulation while it simultaneously engages literary practice (translation, criticism and poetry) and text-art. Parsa was formerly a Lecturer, Educator and the Director of the Alzheimer's Project at The Museum of Modern Art, and is currently Associate Professor and the Special Assistant to the Dean for Interdisciplinary Programs at Pratt Institute.

Anila Agha’s latest project, My Forked Tongue deals with cultural multiplicity, crossing barriers, and traversing our contemporary terrain to discover ways that cultural, social and gender based issues result from the concepts constructed by history, traditions and our contemporary societies. Anila is a mixed media artist born in Lahore, Pakistan. She completed her BFA in Textile Arts at the National College of Arts and her MFA in Fiber Arts at the University of North Texas.

Imran Nafees Siddiqui’s “Mera Naam Hai Muhabat - I am love” plays with expected order through text and color to challenge conditioning regarding gender roles and sexuality. Siddiqui is an artist who has worked in a wide range of mediums, and his work has an element of social activism and engagement. This is his first time showing work outside of South Asia, where he has been active since 2001 and also works in the nonprofit sector.

Khalil Chishtee's sculptures are words and shapes simultaneously; the words shaping the image and the shape visualizing the words. With an element of the sacred, his work explores the relationship between form and content, challenging the validity of art for art’s sake. He graduated from the National College of Arts, Lahore with a BFA in 1988 and holds an MA from California State University, Sacramento. Khalil has been commissioned to do much public art, especially in Pakistan, since 1986.

Qasim Riza Shaheen's series of photographs described as self-portraits are, in fact, little swan songs or self-elegies, but the realization of what they are does not dawn on a viewer until the entire work has been seen and seen again. Shaheen actively exhibits work in his native UK, as well as participating in residencies internationally, including in Pakistan. He founded the live art company Anokha Laadla, and his solo show “In a world where there are five women I am the seventh” was on view at Twelve Gates Arts in May 2012.

Saira Ansari's work consists of email dialogues about art leading to a full fledged blog on art and presented here as a single work exemplifying the confluence of technology, text and art. Saira Ansari was born in 1982 in Sao Paulo, Brazil, currently residing between Lahore, Rio de Janeiro and Dubai. She earned a BFA as well as an MA in Visual Arts from the National College of Arts, Lahore. Her MA dissertation is about public spaces of art in Pakistan.

Simeen Farhat's speech bubbles are the perfect examples of a transformation that renders the poetry that she uses indiscernible and thus gives the audience a perfect experience of art. Simeen graduated Summa cum Laude from Arizona State University (BFA) and from Texas Christian University (MFA). She has previously shown work at Twelve Gates Art Gallery in 2011 and has exhibited internationally for the past 15 years.

Siona Benjamin’s Esther scroll (megillah) is reminiscent of Hindu manuscripts and Mughal miniatures; like her other work, it visually represents ~ quite effectively ~ her background of being brought up Jewish in a predominantly Hindu and Muslim India. Benjamin is a painter originally from Bombay, where she attended the J.J. School of Art. She also holds two MFA’s one in Drawing and Painting from Southern Illinois University, the other in Theater Set Design from the University of Illinois at Urbana.

Swati Khurana examines the communication of romantic love through the written word, incorporating symbols of ritual. Swati Khurana was born in India and raised in New York where she currently lives and works. Her work has been seen across the United States, Italy, the Netherlands, The Gambia, Costa Rica, as well as across South Asia. She is a founding member of the South Asian Women’s Creative Collective.