Nusra Latif Qureshi Of Birds of prey/paradise, Utopia and perhaps Elysian Fields

14 March –
11 April 2015

Nusra Latif Qureshi trained in Lahore in the Mughal miniature painting tradition and has developed a distinct and rich visual arts practice that engages with the visual histories of South Asia. Her work reveals a complex negotiation of stereotypes and the perceived past, presenting history as a collection of overlapping fragments rearranged to construct new narratives. Unlike her previous works where Qureshi focused on postcolonialism and all its baggage and idiosyncrasies, here she delves into the residues of colonial classifications with maps, manuscripts, manuals and monuments. Qureshi’s collages entice curiosity with outlines of skewed rectangles overlaying grainy old print reproductions which feature manmade structures, birds, people and occupations. These works are further obscured with collaged texts, handwritten notations, fabrics, and ornaments, all additional clues examining ideas of glory, mortality and absence. There is a sense of mystery or even conspiracy in the unapologetic writings, the foreboding birds, empty chasms and the lush jewels.

In the five mine maps works, found texts and maps are layered with marks of graphite, charcoal and gold to formulate a “mis-map” which denies access to implied treasure. These new works are puzzles composed of leads or lures to possible sites to be uncovered or discovered. The visual device of a looming skewed rectangle is employed in both maps and collages. For Qureshi, these rectangles or “holes dug in the ground” speak of varied structures – dams, reservoirs, mines and canals – structures now redundant but once the symbolic pinnacle of human effort and intelligence. What is dug out of the earth is never returned.

Mortality, absence and decay are also addressed in the larger paintings, BOXED REMAINS OF THE AVIAN ANCESTORS-III and IV. The image of the bird has been a recurring motif in Qureshi’s practice employed for its versatile roles representing flight (of imaginations and bodies both), habit, nature, mystery, intrigue and cunning at different stages in different paintings. The bejewelled bird sculptures and the eggs contrast the sombre mood of Qureshi’s works on paper. The crude use of black pastel, graphite and raw found objects shadow the glory of pedestaled bird forms and glittering gold. The glory eclipses the desperation and destruction and serves to emphasise these inherent contradictions. Of Birds of prey/paradise, Utopia and perhaps Elysian Fields sees Qureshi present puzzles which persuade us to explore, grapple with what cannot be reconciled, and to relish in the unknown.

Nusra Latif Qureshi lectured at the National School of Art in Lahore from 1995 to 1999, immigrating to Australia in 2001 to take up postgraduate studies at the Victorian College of the Arts, The University of Melbourne. She has shown in numerous solo and group exhibitions across Asia, Australia, Europe and the United States, including a solo exhibition at Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, in 2004. Other selected exhibitions include: Air born, McClelland Gallery & Sculpture Park, Langwarrin, Victoria, 2013; Nothing to Declare?, The Academy of Arts, Brandenburger Tor, Berlin, 2013; Negotiating This World: Contemporary Australian Art, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2012; Sub-Tropical Heat: New Art from South Asia, Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Zealand, 2012; Beyond the Self, National Portrait Gallery, Canberra, 2011; Realms of Intimacy: Miniaturist Practice from Pakistan, Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, 2011; The Rising Tide, Mohatta Palace Museum, Karachi, Pakistan, 2010; Beyond The Page, Pacific Asia Museum, Pasadena, 2010; Living Traditions, National Art Gallery, Islamabad, Pakistan, 2009; East West Divan: Contemporary Art from Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, 53rd Venice Biennale, 2009; An Ever Expanding Universe, Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, 2008; 5th Asia Pacific Triennial Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, 2006; Karkhana: A Contemporary Collaboration, Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Connecticut, and San Francisco Asian Art Museum, 2005; and Beyond Borders: Art of Pakistan, National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai, 2005. Qureshi was invited by the Australian Tapestry Workshop to create a tapestry in celebration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2013.

Artist’s profile