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‘Perpetual Paradox’ by Rashid Rana at Musée Guimet
Rashid Rana’s work baffles and unsettles the eye, till a point the micro-incrustations of detail reveal a hidden truth. Considered one of the most significant artists of his generation, he plays with hazy double meaning and odd opposing vision by assembling video installations, digital photographs and sculptures. This is what he terms the ‘perpetual paradox’ of today’s complex world, where every image and every idea also comprises its opposite, ultimately to strike equilibrium.

Born in Pakistan, he now spends his time in Toronto, Lahore and has even become a known name in India. He deviated from his peers and their traditional painting techniques by deploying digital media and photography. With his conceptually driven art practice and a peculiar pixellated attention to formal concerns, he has emerged as an iconic artist on the global stage. His culturally provocative ‘Veil’ series or even the more popular Bollywood portraits employ such vast source material to convey the conflicting influences in contemporary culture.

The artist is particularly known for his digital photomontages that address a litany of social, political cultural, and economic realities through ironic juxtapositions. His mosaic-like usage of minute pointillist photos pixellated images, which identify and explore these tensions between the whole and its parts, are a hallmark of his practice. Art lovers in France are getting to discover Rashid Rana’s remarkable talent with some of his most exciting works on display at Musée Guimet, a leading museum in Paris. The prestigious institution founded by Emile Guimet (1836-1918) has already undertaken a vast renovation program to ensure that it can increasingly assert itself as a major centre, in the heart of Europe, for the appreciation and knowledge of Asian civilizations, while also taking into consideration the latest developments in museum science.

The new exhibition provides a scope for the institution to step into the realm of contemporary Asian art. Its current president Jacques Giès (also one of the curators along with documentary researcher Caroline Arhuero; Églantine de Ganay and Arianne Levene as the guest curators) explains: “The museum is much more than a safety-deposit box for antiques. In view of the value of the Asian dynamic in our modern-day world – where Asian cultures are for the first time in Western history making a place for themselves that grows larger every day- the time has come, we believe, to reflect on and reconsider our notion of the museum.”

In ‘Perpetual Paradox’, the core of the new-age concerns gets aptly summed up. These are the works where concepts of seen and unseen are deftly combined to illustrate the antagonisms that prevail between cultures. He satirizes pop culture, transforms traditional religious symbols, and looks to redefine elements of art and cultural history. Elaborating on his style, a curatorial note states: “Originally a painter, well-known in the public eye in Pakistan and several other Middle-Eastern and European countries, Rashid Rana has for the last decade or so chosen to work on digital imaging. The technique lets him associate opposing elements in the same piece by inlaying micro-photographic details and creating pixellated images. By associating the seen with the unseen, the artist highlights the hostility between cultures, holding responsible those who create today’s images and therefore play a role in the construction of tomorrow’s traditions…”

The artist’s deft digital prints weave thousands of tiny portraits and other intriguing images, conglomerating them as pixels within a single unified image, vacillating between the micro and the macro. He manipulates or miniaturized photos from advertisements into digitized re-creations to result in a visual synthesis show his fascination with the history of a ubiqutious photographic ‘moment’. He has stated: “In this age of uncertainty we’ve probably lost the privilege of having one world view. Now every image, idea and truth encompasses its opposite within itself. Thus we live in a state of duality. This intriguing internal conflict gets translated into my work, on a formal level, as well as having historical, political and geographical connotations.”

The exhibition appears hand-in-hand with another show, ‘Pakistan: Where Civilizations Meet’. The two shows provide the perfect opportunity to experience ancient heritage alongside contemporary creations of a contemporary artist. Rashid Rana’s disconcertingly paradoxical pieces will be scattered among the Musée Guimet’s permanent collection. Set against millenary Asian artworks at the museum, they form a striking confrontation between contemporary art and rich heritage. This offers scope to compare contemporary art with the age-old Asian pieces, thus putting a question mark above tradition and the ‘illusion of permanence’, from the depths of time to the modern age.