The recipient of the UC Berkeley South Asia Artist Prize for 2022
Sialkot to Jammu. 376 cm x 167 cm. Graphite and wash on paper. 2018
Through my drawings, I walk across difficult landscapes. I journey through plains, valleys, gorges, crossing bridges, motorways and underpasses. Past no mans’ lands, borders, checkpoints, disputed territories, I aspire for a seamlessness where trade, culture, language and heritage can flow freely. I follow pre-colonial routes, mapping them as I hem my way across South Asia, Central Asia and along the Arabian Gulf. Drawing each town a centimetre at a time, I bring into focus the potential of reviving ancient trade routes which were interrupted and demarcated as new nations were carved as the region gained independence from British occupation.
Jabel Ali to Gwadar. 35 cm X 152 cm. Graphite and wash on paper. 2019
I have walked from the ancient Persepolis to teeming metropolises, scouring google maps as I excavate old routes and chart new ones. My travels are digital, which allows me to hover above a waterfall in the Karakoram and then later, view the same waterfall from multiple campsites while scrolling through online travel blogs. On the way I collect histories, myths and political narratives – which further guide my onward journeys.
Karachi to Jodhpur, 35 cm X 152 cm, graphite and wash on. Paper. 2018
I find myself returning to landmarks that have withstood the test of time as well as those that are quickly crumbling under the weight of human intolerance. I walk through land which is geographically and logistically connected to my city of birth - Lahore. At times I stray away but almost immediately begin to search for an alternative route back home.
Industan. 125 cm x 177 cm. Graphite and suminagashi marbling on paper. 2021
Embedding memory with myth, I create my own private nation-states in which I exercise my natural rights in safety and complete freedom. On google maps, I zoom out
watching villages drown into towns and towns drown into cities, till the dotted borders become bold lines of nation-states governed by important men. I search the surrounding
region for other nations suffixed with a ‘stan’ and compile the following list:
Kazakhstan - land of Kazaks
Kyrgyzstan - land of Kyrgyz
Uzbekistan - land of Uzbeks
Tajikistan - land of Tajiks
Turkmenistan - land of Turkmens
Afghanistan - land of Afghans
Pakistan - land of the Pure
Why didn’t the important men of my country name it Industan - land of Indus? What does it mean to belong to the land of the Pure, for the Pure? Who are the pure? And while we are at it, how do you cleanse an unclean land?
1965 Victory Day. 55 cm x 93 cm. Graphite on paper. 2020
A day before India gained independence from the British, Pakistan was born. Its birth was a c-section. It was fertilised by the ‘Two-nation theory’’, the Chachnama (book of Arab conquest), was whispered in its ears like the Azaan . It was reiterated through textbooks, milli naghmay (patriotic songs) and stories from the Partition that we Muslims are a separate nation within India and that the creation of a new homeland was not only necessary, but inevitable. Since then, Muslims in the Sub-continent have been viewed as non-indigenous people - a residue of Arab, Afghan and Central Asian invaders. In the years following the Partition, to strengthen our national identity, our historical past was sieved for nuggets of Muslimness, and the rest gradually erased from Pakistan’s histography.
Chachnama: conquest route, Shiraz to Sind
Our origin narrative, forcibly extracted from the Chachnama, was hitched to an Arab invasion, and the thousands of years old Indus civilization and Gandharan past shoved to the margins . These margins have been drawn so close to the border that a simple push and our ancient history would spring over to the side to ‘Hindustan’, erasing our visceral connection to our land.
Kartarpur footbridge, 35 cm x 152 cm. Graphite and wash on watercolour board. 2018
You know, after the British drew the Radcliffe line dividing the Sub-continent into two unequal parts, the fissure created our Punjab and their Punjab. The sentinels that guard our land are the fiercest facing the East. They watch over our Punjab and their Punjab, like symmetrical kidneys on opposite sides of the spine. They bulge their eyes till the veins on their temples swell like Lahore’s canals after a week of monsoon rain. Once I drew both the Punjabs side by side, adding a footbridge over River Ravi as a reward for flowing so unbiasedly for 74 years. And all the sentinels I sent home to rest for the day.
Alexander and Mohammed bin Qasim in Multan. 175 cm x 83 cm. Suminagashi and graphite on paper. 2022
I feel compelled to darken, deepen and define the contours of these amnesiac histories and immortalize them in the form of drawings. I draw the sun temple in the backdrop of Mohammed bin Qasim’s army facing the local Raja as they prepare for battle. While I’m at it, I also compress time and space to include Alexander the Macedonian on a charging horse as he too makes a bid for Multan. When the need arises to soften dark lines, I erase submissively, as I have come to understand that no matter how hard I dig the eraser into the graphite, the tell-tale lines will remain.
Most recently, I have been researching on a segment of the northern silk route from Multan to Baku. I begin walking from the historic inner city of Baku where a 14th-century caravanserai named ‘Multan’ piques my curiosity as it is the namesake of one of the oldest cities in present-day Pakistan. I follow the route along the Caspian Sea, scaling the wall of Gorgon in Iran, through the holy streets of Mashhad into the arid mountains of Herat, passing Kandahar making my way across Chaman border as I enter Pakistan where the route terminates in the ancient city of Multan. I rest at caravanserais stopping to gather local news as I survey the land-route for the potential of seamless trade and re-inaugurating religious corridors.
Baku to Multan. 600 cm x 50 cm. Water soluble graphite on dur-alar. 2022
Repatriation of Tipu's Tiger. 122 x 152 cm. Graphite, water soluble graphite, Suminagashi ink on mylar. 2022
Attempting to navigate the difficulties of regional access in South Asia- created by colonialism- I find myself drawn to museum objects of South Asian heritage that were carried across the seas in fleets. I question: How many hands must a stolen object change before its provenance is cleansed? Must all objects be preserved? Especially those incarcerated in spaces of colonial pride as trophies harking back to an unmistakable violent past. Repatriation of Tipu’s Tiger is the visualization of the return of the most prized possessions of the Victoria & Albert Museum - stolen from Srirangapatna after the British defeated and killed Tipu Sultan in his own island capital of Mysore.
Chashme Badoor is a pair of spectacles made in silver, gilded in gold, encrusted with green onyx and champagne-colored zircons. This pair was conceptualized in Oxford, handcrafted in Lahore and the final drawings in the lenses were made in Dubai. They replicate the 17th-century spectacles named Astana-ye-Ferdous, fabled to have been made for a Mughal Prince in India. In place of the emerald lenses, I have embedded graphite drawings of refugees from the Partition of India in 1947.
Auctioneers and European historians have brazenly posed in the original spectacles. Most recently, Pharrel Williams appropriated the design claiming it was his original collaboration with Tiffany & Co. I placed them in Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford, in one of the cabinets of curiosities, to draw attention to its contentious past and present perception. The drawings in the lenses act as a 'vision corrector', forcing the viewer to confront the refugee crisis that was created as the British colonizers hastily left the new divided Subcontinent.
Salima Hashmi, artist, activist, educator and partition survivor wearing the glasses Chasme Badoor in Oxford.