Aisha Khalid: I AM AND I AM NOT

Zilberman Gallery Berlin

Aisha Khalid
I Am and I Am not (2017)

Aisha Khalid: I AM AND I AM NOT
28 April – 31 July 2017
Opening: Thursday, 27 April, 6pm

Zilberman Gallery Berlin



Aisha Khalid ON Process, Making, and the Personal Lahore

Interview by Simone Wille


Simone Wille: And having known you for some years, I would say that you show great attention to detail in everything that you do. I am looking at how you designed and decorated your house, your studio. You have left nothing to chance. If I dare relate your personality, your mentality, to your work, am I right to say that your meticulous manner goes very well with your artistic precision?

Aisha Khalid: Maybe you are right. I feel that if you do something you should invest 100 percent. You should not compromise. Right now I am painting these 18 works for the Berlin show (I Am and I Am Not, 2017). They are one work. I have to show you these works. They are almost identical but there are variations in them. At some point I was thinking: why am I making these works? Every day I am making one work and it feels almost like meditating. I am applying organic forms in each one of them and although they feel like bullet holes they may as well be something else. I wanted to show you this one (pulls out a four-partite large scale work, At the Circle‘s Centre, 2017). You see that all four parts look like they are not centered. They all look as if they were out of focus. So for me this very strongly relates to what is happening in the world. People are unsure of many things. We live in uncertain times and people are confused.

S: Aisha, I frequently see drawn lines in your paintings. How important is it for you to generally paint on drawn lines and in particular in these 18 works you are showing me here?

A: I am also trying to write a book. I am currently working on it. I am recording a conversation between myself and a friend. When I see the lines in these 18 works I sort of see the book in progress. I feel that I need to fill these lines. These 18 works for Berlin will be framed and displayed on the wall like paintings; and two of the paintings, one red and one green, will be bound in book form and placed on the table like a book. These two paintings will sort of keep the pages together.

S: This reminds me of your work Name, Class, Subject (2009), which certainly was an important project, right?

A: It is one of my favorite works. I feel this is my most successful art work which is accessible to everyone and is not something to merely keep precious, but one can use it every day like an ordinary thing.

S: How do you feel about the size of the surface? You move between the large and small scales and it seems to be very effortless.

A: When I started working on a large scale I felt that I needed to be able to accomplish this. It really challenged me and I wanted to sit in front of a large scale so that I could just get lost in it. It gives me great pleasure to work on a large scale, because it keeps me busy for a long time. In fact, it doesn’t matter what scale I work on, because either way I focus on one area only.

S: You have had a lot of opportunity to work with large spaces. You have done important site-specific works in Kabul, Venice, and at the Mohatta Palace in Karachi.

A: Sure, I have been given a lot of opportunities to work on a big scale and I no longer fear large spaces, having gained a lot of experience with them. And, generally, as I said earlier, it doesn’t really matter if I work with large or small scales, as the process remains the same. Whether I am working on a small painting or a site-specific installation, the process remains the same. I divide space into a centimeter and then that into half a centimeter, and so on... But, yes, having said that, there is a temptation to create something extraordinary for large spaces.

S: Coming back to At the Circle’s Centre, there is this notion of it being suitable for expansion. You start from the center and work outwards. There seems to be a tension involving the possibility of outward expansion. Could we say that you developed a concept that has the capacity to continue and expand indefinitely?

A: Yes, you are right. You see, there are quite a few works here that I started years ago, including this one started in 2011, to which I only recently returned and continue to work with. So what I am saying is that there are times where I need to leave a piece unfinished, not see it for many years, and then reconnect with it and complete it. It feels like there is something left unsaid!

S: That’s a nice way of saying it. So there are more works to which you return to after the distance of a few years?

A: Yes. I am just now returning to a number of them, adding to spaces, filling gaps that I created some time ago.

S: Aisha, your labor-intense, very detailed, very complex yet minimal works are rooted in a traditional art practice which you have adopted, incorporated and fully developed according to your own needs. What is it that connects you and your practice today with the philosophy of the miniature tradition, which was a courtly practice limited to depicting the activities of the ruling elite?

A: I think for me tradition means that you grow up in a certain society, whose culture and traditions you become a part of, and even if you try to avoid these or leave that place and those surroundings, your roots do not leave you. My miniature painting practice and learning is somewhere in my subconscious, and even if I can now say that I don’t think about it consciously, it is there. Everything flowing into my art form comes from my surroundings and from the cultures and traditions within which I grew up. I do not consider this a burden, but rather part of my life, and I cannot keep it away from my art.


This interview is part of an extensive conversation between Simone Wille and Aisha Khalid, which is to be found in the catalogue acompanying the exhibition I AM AND I AM NOT. Simone Wille is the author of "Modern Art in Pakistan – History, Tradition, Place". She lives in Innsbruck.



Zilberman Gallery–Berlin is pleased to announce I AM AND I AM NOT, the first solo show of artist Aisha Khalid in Berlin. The exhibition will take place at Zilberman Gallery–Berlin, at Goethestrasse between April 28 and July 31, 2017.

The exhibition I AM AND I AM NOT consists of various paintings, a diptych in book form as well as a site-specific installation. Strongly influenced by the figurative miniature tradition of the Mughal Empire, the Pakistani-born artist Khalid, takes the tradition one step further and contemplates on contemporary issues such as the female figure, or say, the global politics and the uncertainty surrounding us, as apparent in her previous works.

Khalid’s radical-yet-subtle criticism represents itself in the use of abstraction. Furthermore, the artist invites us to re-think certain problems from a non-European perspective; what looks out of focus might refer to the precariousness of our era. The renowned motifs of miniatures, such as the Mughal flower tulip of When I Am Silent (2017), are freed from their traditional meanings and become protagonists of contemporary issues. Curvilinear lines reminiscent of curtains—a recurring image in Khalid’s oeuvre—refers to a metaphor of the dichotomy of public and private, the veil or borders. If you look under the hood, something is uncanny in the paintings I Am and I Am Not (2017) or At the Circle’s Centre (2017); the circles might be alluding to, well, bullet holes.

Larger than Life (2017), a site-specific installation with video and embroidery, hinges on the problematics of political empowerment and the (im)balance of power. Unfinished hand-made embroidered flowers on the wall, in contrast to the almost violent speed of the embroidery machine in the video, draw attention to the inequality in the society.


Aisha Khalid is one of the most prominent contemporary artists from Pakistan, and also works as curator and art educationist. She graduated from National College of Arts, Lahore, in 1997 and received her post-graduate degree at Rijksakademie, Amsterdam, in 2002. She participated in solo and group exhibitions nationally and internationally, including Venice Biennial 2009, Fukuoka Triennale 2001, Sharjah Biennial 2011, Moscow Biennial 2013, Kabul 2008 and the V&A Museum, the Corvi-Mora Gallery, Asia House (all three in London), Whitworth Art Gallery Manchester, Aga Khan Museum Toronto, the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague and the Modern Art Museum Arnhem, the Netherlands. Aisha was finalist and people’s choice winner of the Jameel Prize 2011, and was awarded the Birgit Skiold Memorial Trust Award of Excellence 2010 and the Alice Award 2012.

Her works are exhibited in several museum and private collections all over the world, such as Aga Khan Museum Toronto, M+ Museum Hong Kong, V&A Museum, Fukuoka Asian Art Museum Japan, Sharjah Art Museum, Queensland Art Gallery, Sheikh Zayed Museum, Harris Museum and World Bank.


During the opening on April 27, Zilberman Gallery is pleased to host ITINERANT INTERLUDE #14 with performances by Christine Paté (accordion) and Matthias Badczong (clarinet) in a program curated especially for I AM AND I AM NOT. The series ITINERANT INTERLUDES is curated by Laurie Schwartz with the support of the initiative Neue Musik Berlin.

I AM AND I AM NOT is accompanied by a catalogue, with a preface by Lotte Laub and texts by Simone Wille, Timo Kaabi-Linke and Atteqa Ali.


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