Transient Waters and Ephemeral Spaces
Transient Waters and Ephemeral Spaces

Artists have long deliberated what constitutes the idea of ‘home’ and the introspectiveness that accompanies it. Certain memories of home remain preserved in the mind even after their tangible existence has vanished, while others are swept away as soon as the physical space is no longer inhabited. Just as the course of nature ensures that no space remains permanent with the changing tides and seasons, there are countless intangible moments that resonate within feelings of homeliness that transcend the literal. One is reminded of the works of artists Rachel Whiteread or Gordon Matta-Clark, where both artists created temporary site-specific works that reconceptualized the facade of a soon-to-be demolished house, and the idea of the home as a physical space was destroyed only to bring forth the temporality of homeliness. Alternatively, in Mona Hatoum’s “Home”, she challenges the notion of the home being a sanctuary. Delving into personal histories of her Palestinian family fleeing from war, she explores the lack of homeliness afforded to her in that sense of exile. The concept of home is such that it need not be limited to just the physical sphere.

Abode, Ayessha Quraishi, ink on board, 48 x 64 inches, 2024

In an exhibition titled Temporary homes cast Temporary Shadows, Ayessha Quraishi’s body of work delves into the notion of the impermanent and temporal, investigating the ephemeral nature of memories, particularly in the space of the home. When asking “what is home?”, Quraishi interprets the answer as: something that transcends dimensions and physicality, beyond just the four walls of a house. To further ask: “What is home when it is lost?” dives deeper into the philosophical understanding of the home from an individual experience that is somehow also collective. “We are all connected energetically. We are walking one another home”, she claims.

Looking at the title of the exhibition itself, the implication that temporary homes make temporary shadows underscores the artist’s investigation of capturing a space that is not permanent through the intangibility of the memories that resided in it. Further investigating this notion of ephemerality, Quraishi makes several references to water bodies in her work, more literally through the titles. Water and memory can appear to have a deeply synonymous manifestation. Stories, images, and flashbacks stored in the crevices of the mind, not in solid form, but swirling in and out much like waves lapping softly on the shore, carrying back residue of sand stuck between one’s toes on the beach.

The Stolen Wave 3, Ayessha Quraishi, Ink on paper, 11.5 x 16 inches, 2022

The Stolen Wave series of pen on ink on paper uses fluid mark-making, primarily in black and red. The patterns emerging are reminiscent of the movement of tides, somewhat static but also capturing movement. Much like the movement of water ebbing and flowing on sand, the artist’s method requires ink and paint to first be applied, then removed by rubbing off, creating dynamic patterns using the residue pigment on each surface. What remains then is a visual very similar to viewing water bodies from a distance.

Zarmeene Shah, who previously curated Quraishi’s retrospective at Koel Gallery in the year 2020, has spoken in detail about the use of “absence” in the artist’s technique of mark-making. She says: “This word then comes to signal perhaps the single most important concept within Quraishi’s oeuvre, and with it the desire for its manifestation, leading to the development of Quraishi’s technique of application, rubbing and removal, a process of giving, of taking away, and of that which remains, i.e. the residue, or the trace.” 1

The theory of water memory first emerged in the late 1980s by French immunologist Jacques Benveniste, suggesting that water that was once merged with external substances will still retain remnants of that substance even after heavy dilution has taken place.2 This has somehow been a topic of much contestation in the scientific community. Explored in the artist’s work, however, it emerges as an interesting philosophical concept. Quraishi titles her spiral-bound books The Memory of Water, in which we see similar mark-making taking place with a mix of ink and foil on paper. The diptych titled Ebb and Flow also seemingly refers to her method of pigment application being similar to the rhythmic and cyclical movement of moving water.

Memory of Water 1, Ayessha Quraishi, Ink and foil on paper, 11.5 x 16 inches, 2022

Water, just like memory, is constantly shifting, adapting to whatever vessel it obtains. We store core memories in a way to ensure we do not lose them, with other memories which we choose to forget— only remaining in fragments or lost entirely. This takes us back to the artist’s initial inquiry of what is home when it is lost. In a series titled What Remains, sun-stained paper captures time in its physical form through the aging of the yellowed pages. An aerogramme, in which the letter and envelope are not separate pages but in fact one singular piece of paper, is seen unfolded and unwritten, speaking to a forgotten age where airmail was once the fastest mode of communication. Some bearing similar marks in ink, what remains is truly only remnants of memories folded in the aged pieces of paper.

The artist also takes a dive into the digital realm, which seems adequately utilized in exploring the fluidity and temporal nature of mediums. Video, in particular, acts as an interesting rendition of exploring intangibility. As part of the exhibition, a film titled Nayyar: an art story was displayed alongside the artist’s work. The 20-minute film by Ayessha Quraishi and Shalalae Jamil chronicles the career of artist and educator Nayyar Jamil, who was Quraishi’s mentor and teacher, and Jamil’s mother. Her past students and family discuss her life and studio practice in the film, subsequently creating a narrative through the memories of those she taught and whose life she was a part of. The film came forth through a grant supported by the US Consulate Karachi, SOC Films, and Patakha Pictures. Digital prints using old photographs are also created in a repetitive grid to the point where the original image is lost, where only lines and marks remain. Titled Uniform White and Uniform Black, the digital prints also begin to imitate her manual mark-making to reflect the absence of tangibility in the specific memories on display.

Uniform White 8, PAKISTAN NAVY 8, Ayessha Quraishi, Ink on paper - Digital print, 12.2 x 17 inches

Quraishi’s work stands as a monument to a forgotten past, materializing abstract notions of absence in a way that brought physicality to ideas of homeliness and unhomeliness, emptiness and nostalgia, things that we feel only once something is past and no longer there. Perhaps the temporality of memories acts as homage to the fact that nothing is truly permanent, much like in nature, and the only permanent thing is change itself. But like the concept of water memory, remnants of temporary spaces remain in the form of residual fragments in our memory, despite the shifts in time and space.

“Temporary homes cast Temporary shadows” by Ayessha Quraishi was on display at Koel Gallery from 15th Feb – 1st March, 2024.

All images, courtesy @Koel Gallery.

Title Image: Ebb and Flow, Ayessha Quraishi, Diptych, Oil and ink on paper, 7.7 x 11.2 inches, 2022.


  1. Zarmeene Shah, ‘In This Thundering Silence: A Space of Retrospect – On the Works of Ayessha Quraishi: 1985-2020’, Ayessha Quraishi: Between Light, Works: 1985-2020, (Topical Printers, Lahore), 2020.
  2. Yolene Thomas, “The history of the Memory of Water”, July 2007; 96(3):151-7. doi: 10.1016/j.homp.2007.03.006. PMID: 17678810.

Noor Butt is an artist and writer. Her ongoing research interests and creative practice include South Asian and 20th century art, with a focus on gender, nationalism, and image-making in the photographic age. Recipient of the Abu Shamim Areff Award for Best Research, the Sher Asfandyar Khan Award for Academic Excellence, and the Daniel Peltz Scholarship for postgraduate study, she has a BFA with distinction from the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture (IVS) and an MA in History of Art with Merit from the University of London, Birkbeck College. Noor currently teaches art history at IVS in the Liberal Arts programme.

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