• Catherine Flutsch

Ali Kazim: Suspended In Time

★★★★★


Exhibition Review: Ali Kazim: Suspended In Time, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, Open until 26 June 2022. Free entry.


[Disclosure: The Ashmolean provided me with an exhibition catalogue for free for the purposes of this review.]


This year marks the 75th anniversary of the creation of Pakistan so it is fitting that the Ashmolean Museum is showing a very special exhibition by Pakistani artist, Ali Kazim. Many of the works on display were created as a direct response to Kazim’s time as artist in residence at the Ashmolean in 2019; the first South Asian artist to have this access.

Ali Kazim.

Kazim’s path to becoming an artist is extraordinary. Born in the small village of Pattoki in Lahore, Kazim became obsessed with art when, as a child, a primary school teacher praised his drawing of a mango. Kazim’s first art teachers were cinema billboard painters – who would regularly paint colourful and masterful images to entice people to attend the current film showing at the cinema.

A cinema billboard painter in Lahore.


It was one of the billboard painters who first suggested that Kazim should attend the National College of Arts in Lahore – where Kazim eventually studied.

Conference of Birds, watercolour pigments on paper, 198cm x 570 cm, 2019. I took this photo with my iPhone at the exhibition. I wish there was more space around this piece.


The works on display at this exhibition are an interesting combination of utterly luxurious and exquisitely sparse. There are the beautiful monochrome works, such as the landscape series Ruins (created between 2016-2018), the extraordinary panels that make up the work Conference of Birds (2019) and the almost monochrome self-portraits including one of my favourite pieces, Self Portrait with Cloud (2014).

Self Portrait With Cloud, watercolour pigment on paper and dry pigment on mylar, 2014, 68cm x 40cm.

Then there are the works that are super saturated with jewel coloured pigments including the Bird Hunter series (2020) and all the extraordinary portraits (2019-2020). There are also two fantastic short films on display.


Untitled, Man of Faith series, 2019, watercolour pigment on paper, 56cm x 46 cm. I took this photo with my iPhone at the exhibition.


Each work or series of works has a detailed story, philosophy and technique behind it. Some were created before Kazim’s Ashmolean residence and many were created as a direct response to that experience. The films are fantastic – allowing us to see the artist in action both in creating an intimate work in his studio and creating his huge, installation piece of 3000 clay birds placed in a ruined building for the 2020 Lahore Biennale.


Detail of Conference of Birds. I took this photo with my iPhone at the exhibition.


To try and absorb all these stories, techniques and philosophies, as well as spend time with each work, in what feels like a small, dark space may be quite overwhelming for just one visit. Especially, if you are, like me, new to Kazim’s work. The exhibition is in the Ashmolean’s Gallery 8 on the lower ground floor and it is in fact, quite a large space, but given the number and size of the works – they do feel absolutely packed in.


I took this photo with my iPhone at the exhibition.


This is where the beautiful little exhibition catalogue comes into play. Unlike most art exhibition catalogues; this catalogue is small and soft cover. It’s completely feasible to do as I did, and throw it in your bag, to read at your leisure in a café.


I took this photo with my iPhone at the exhibition.


The catalogue contains a fantastic interview with Kazim about his life and the works in the exhibition, as well as a few very readable essays – the text takes less than an hour to read.


The exhibition catalogue.


The rest of the catalogue is filled with gorgeous, full colour reproductions of all the works on display. There is something about Kazim’s work that is so clean and minimalist that it reproduces extremely well, even in this small size.

Untitled, Part of the Ruins Series, 193cm x 358 cm, 2018, watercolour pigment on paper. Courtesy Jhaveri Contemporary.


I think being able to read the stories and philosophy behind all the works on display in advance and have some time to absorb and process, helped me to avoid information overload during my visit to the exhibition itself. Given that the exhibition is free, spending around £12-£15 on the catalogue doesn’t seem too excessive.

Untitled (Mourner), 2020, Watercolour pigment on paper, 70cm x 114 cm.

This exhibition feels special in so many ways, it would be a real pity to miss it.

 

You can buy the exhibition catalogue through any of the following links.*

Amazon Affiliate Link £11.37

Amazon Non Affiliate Link £11.37

Buy from Ashmolean Shop here. £15.00

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If you enjoyed reading this review, you might also enjoy my review of the Ashmolean's other exhibitions, the Pissaro exhibition, the Tokyo: Art and Photography exhibition and the

Pre-Raphaelites.

Square Stage