Aicon is proud to present At the Circle’s Center, Aisha Khalid's inaugural solo exhibition at the gallery. One of Pakistan’s leading contemporary artists, Khalid’s diverse practice and contribution to the neo-miniature movement was celebrated with I Am and I Am Not, a retrospective spanning three decades of her career, travelling from Karachi to New Zealand in 2021 and 2022. Her works have featured in the Venice (2009) and Sharjah (2011) Biennials, and she received the Jameel Prize’s people’s choice award in 2011. Her monumental painting is onpermanent view at the Islamabad International Airport.
At the Circle’s Center—comprised of small works on paper, large-scale paintings, embroidered and pinned textiles, mixed media photo works, and video—covers the breadth of the artist's practice rooted in neo-miniature techniques and discipline. Her work has evolved outside the boundaries of traditional Mughal miniatures to play with size and explore the power dynamics of global politics while maintaining a connection to the spiritual realm.
The title of this exhibition is pulled from a striking diptych painted in rich shades of green, red, and blue. The work exemplifies the ritualistic process of the artist in which she repetitively paints geometric forms inspired by the floor tiles in her childhood home in Sindh. These vortex compositions come together without the aid of preliminary sketches. Having removed the traditional borders of miniature paintings from her works in the early 2000s, Khalid's new paintings feature undulating surfaces that appear to be without beginning or end. An endless depth is hinted at through circular interruptions in the pattern and through the use of wasli (a hand-layered paper ground) as material. The center of the titular circle slips in and out of focus, symbolizing the loss of a determinable and grounding center in our socio-political climate.
The strict ornament of Khalid's compositions is a more recent development. Her early works often featured the female form lovingly draped in a veil or burqa. As the artist's relationship with the dichotomies of East and West changed with paradigm-shifting world events, the figure departed, leaving behind only a trace via rippling hemlines. This line became circular around 2008 as it transformed into a stylized bullet hole. Over the past few years, it has taken on further signification as a virus cell.
Khalid's art grapples with the lasting legacies of colonialism and violence through deceptively simple geometric forms as well as through the more readily apparent use of pins and needles. By not only piercing the surface of her textiles but leaving behind the penetrating objects, the artist mutates the healing metaphor of the stitch into something more sinister. And yet, like the repetitive mystical quality that balances the undercurrent of violence in her paintings, the golden fields of pins in her textiles, as seen on the verso of 2023's Be Like a Tree and Let the Dead Leaves Drop, have dual meanings. For Khalid, this jagged surface is a visual link to her renewed interest in farming and the ripening wheat she tends in her Charbagh (four garden design) fields. This softer side is seen in her video I Am and I Am Not – Frere Hall (2021), showing the artist surrounded by golden wheat, filmed using a drone during the pandemic, to a soundtrack of her voice singing Huu (sufi chanting).
The healing element of Khalid's practice is most evident in her multi-media works that combine photography and painting. In More Beautiful for Having Been Broken (2018), Khalid moved a site-specific installation at the Shahi Hammam in Lahore into a cropped, two-dimensional work. Unable to paint directly in the gaps of the damaged frescoes in the 17th-century bathhouse, Khalid intervenes in archival prints, painting in her signature geometric patterns. These photo-based works highlight the ways in which neo-miniature art not only preserves Islamic art traditions but also serves to embody contemporary themes of memory, identity, and culture.
Aisha Khalid (b. 1972, Faisalabad) was trained in the Indo-Persian miniature traditions at the National College of Arts Lahore (1997) and completed post-graduate studies at Rijksakademie in Amsterdam (2001-2002). She has participated in solo and group exhibitions nationally and internationally including, the Victoria & Albert Museum, Whitworth Art Gallery Manchester, Corvi-Mora Gallery, Asia House, Aga Khan Museum Toronto, SMK National Gallery of Denmark, The Royal Academy, and the Modern Art Museum Arnhem. Khalid participated in the Fukuoka Triennale (2001), Bagh-e-Babur Kabul (2008), Moscow Biennial (2013), Lahore Biennial (2018), and APT Asia Pacific Triennial (2018).
Installation photography by Sebastian Bach