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Afghani artist Khadim Ali explores 'cultural vandalism'

New exhibition wrestles with Afghanistan's current violence

Khadim Ali Untitled 1 (from The haunted lotus series) 2013, Merino wool, cotton, 225 × 290 cm; Untitled 6 (from The haunted lotus series) 2013, gouache, ink and gold leaf on wasli paper, 35 × 40 cm © the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane

The first exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales by Sydney-based artist Khadim Ali will explore what he describes as ‘cultural vandalism’ and the dehumanising of the Hazara people in Afghanistan, encapsulating in his art his deep and personal concerns about family, his own heritage, the construction of morality (good and evil) and ethnic, racial and religious fanaticism.

Khadim Ali is an Afghan Hazara who was born in Pakistan and is in the third generation of his family to find themselves dispersed from their homeland. His grandparents fled Afghanistan to India then to Pakistan in the 1920s after a massacre of Hazaras. The history of persecution of the Hazara in Afghanistan and fear of the Taliban have followed Khadim Ali and his family to Sydney, which has now been ‘home’ for more than four years.

The exhibition The haunted lotus – depicting the demons that continue to haunt Ali – includes fine gouache and ink paintings; a series of large-scale, richly coloured rugs; and videos that represent the artist’s working methodology. This exhibition contains Ali’s first handmade rugs – as carpets are so much a part of life in Afghanistan – and represents a turning point in his practice.

Combining traditional and contemporary processes, Ali wrestles with Afghanistan’s current violence through detailed images that draw on a mythological past – the Shahnameh or Book of Kings. His delicate paintings and rugs depict demons from this story in a complex act of identification with demonised – or dehumanised – people. As the artist says: 'My demons are the story of my historical self and a people who are displaced and shelterless around the world[…] Demonising is the dehumanising of the Hazaras and forcing them to an indescribable dominion where they must engage in a civil law that does not protect them.’

Khadim Ali lives and works between Sydney, Quetta and Kabul. He trained in miniature painting at the National College of Arts, Lahore and is working towards a master of fine art at the College of Fine Arts, University of NSW. His work was included in dOCUMENTA 2012 and has been collected by the Guggenheim New York; Victoria and Albert Museum, London; British Museum; Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, Japan; Queensland Art Gallery; and the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

AGNSW Contemporary Projects are supported by Andrew Cameron.

Contemporary art with UBS

On view
6 Mar – 1 Jun 2014
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Art Gallery Road, The Domain, Sydney


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