Saba Qizilbash’s solo presentation Hundred Years a Jackal at Dastaangoi Gallery interprets the structures of indigenous identity, and investigates shared ancestral histories through a critical lens of decolonisation. Her practice reclaims a plethora of cultural, architectural and topographical identifiers of colonial history reversing their assimilated and exoticized curatorship. These panoramic visualisations are created through an extensive scholastic and observational excavation revealing diverse historical sites and mapping of ancient trading routes that transcend the rigidity of colonial demarcation. The presentation includes a series of aerial-scapes with an immersive indigenous experience inviting the viewer to traverse a re-imagined manifestation of history that is tracked through becoming aware of the need for imperial reparations.
The tenacity with which Qizilbash executes her muralistic drawings is a testament to the sheer will and relentless pursuit to reclaim representation from the mainstream archetypical tropes of the East. The refined mark-making, drafting and layering of graphite has seamless transitions with sublimity of depth of the landscape. Her ability to stitch together perspective, distortion and peripheral views are mesmerising to the viewer. The subject matter in Alexander and Mohammed bin Qasim is a journey between two points for the artist as she explores the physical aspects of history and creates an allegorical critique for the viewer. Her comparative analysis between the preconceived grandeur of colonialist discourse is drawn as an overwhelming collision between two different narratives originating from the East and West. The relevance of analysing the two perspectives for Qizilbash is to make history more accessible and inclusive of the indigenous experiences that are often left out of history books. Her work examines the exaggerated idealism left behind by colonialism by reclaiming the exoticised emperor or royalty of the East as her main protagonist. Qizilbash takes on the role of an academic historian empowered with the tools and resources to reconstruct these biased trajectories by reconciling borders and building bridges between narratives and communities in 1965 Victory Day. Highlighting lived experiences through topographies, her interpretation of maps, historical accounts of colonial combat and her possession of cultural objects become an integral part of her art practice.
The artist remains vigilant throughout the process of tracing the impact of these cultural exchanges and the evolution of great antiquity commemorated through museum and art collections. Celebration of these emblematic acquisitions now informs research and visual decision-making in her drawings. Without using colour or any facade of romanticism these depictions of war, combat and disputed territories are created through gritty graphite layers woven into an infinite sea of shades reminiscent of the iconic Los Desastres de la Guerra by Goya that sought to highlight lived experiences of conflict that surpassed all historical propaganda. The artwork A Brief History of the Battle of Ichhogil Bund Volume One & Two appears to be deliberately allocating the frames the role of archival objects— decorative frames encased in brass and glass— revealing the lack of depth by choosing the title to denote a summary and not an in-depth account. Similarly, Qizilbash is interested in the ownership of her history by exposing the superficiality of the commodification of cultural objects. She recreated the highly popular Astana-ye-Ferdous, a 17th-century viewing accessory belonging to Mughal Prince in India, transforming it into Chasme Badoor. The artwork resembled the original artefact but replaced its famed emerald lenses with a drawing depicting the Partition of India in 1947. These acts of defiance infuse her depictions of history with an active sense of accountability to decolonise and shift the power from colonists to the perspective of the colonised. Acknowledging the multiplicity of perspectives enables the artist to reclaim her identity and history.
Hundred Years a Jackal unifies the voice of the Global South as an act of resistance to being engulfed by ongoing neo-colonialism in the form of powerful provenance systems used to authenticate history. The artist views this as commodification and exoticism of her ancestral past that is a distortion of history. The artist challenges the exoticism of past conquerors in conflict with colonial powers by restaging historical accounts stored in stately manuscripts and archived maps. Undoing the anglicisation of the collective history of the Indian subcontinent she creates personalised travelling accounts, surveying and scavenging through records of places, sites and communities. With complete control over her graphite medium, the artist traverses through miles of territories that are ridden with political conflict and charged with the histories of war chartering the multiplicity of interactions and coexistence between diverse communities. Her depictions carry a sense of longing and nostalgia of a traveller looking back at the entirety of his route. The destination in Qizibash’s drawings is one of self-awareness, and acknowledgement of the truth behind the distortions of history.
“Hundred Years a Jackal ” was displayed at Dastaangoi Gallery on 8 October with a panel discussion between the artist Saba Qizilbash, curator and writer Fatima Shah and Laraib Asdaf of Purana Pakistan at Dastaangoi Gallery on the opening day.
Cover Title: Chasme Badoor, 15.2 cm x 17.7 cm, Gold plated silver frame, zircons, green onyx, graphite on mylar, tinted resin, 2022