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Multidisciplinary artist celebrates Pakistani roots through ‘beautiful’ art

Exhibit at the V&A which celebrates Pakistan’s 75th independence anniversary (The British Council/PA)
Exhibit at the V&A which celebrates Pakistan’s 75th independence anniversary (The British Council/PA)

A multidisciplinary artist has said it is “really quite powerful” that he has teamed up with popular British institutions to celebrate his family’s Pakistani roots, during South Asian Heritage Month.

Osman Yousefzada has been working with the British Council and the V&A for the exhibit – What is Seen and What is Not – which responds to the 75th anniversary of Pakistan and explores themes of displacement, migration, and the climate crisis through a series of different artwork referred to as “interventions”, across different sites of the V&A.

The first intervention can be found in the Dome of the V&A and is of several large-scale textile banners of abstract figures in motion, with the second – a wooden structure, which has objects cast in glass, clay and wrapped in woven textile on it – in the museum’s sculpture galleries.

Wooden structure with clay objects on it
Osman Yousefzada’s second intervention (The British Council/PA)

The final intervention is in the John Madejeski Garden, which has been transformed into a space for “communal contemplation”, with a number of colourful charpai (a day bed found across South Asia) and mora stools, which visitors are encouraged to move around to reflect displacement, as well as a vessel which resembles a boat, which represents the fact that while Pakistan does not contribute to global emissions too much, the country has been affected by the effects of it.

Mr Yousefzada, who lives in London, told the PA news agency that being part of the exhibit is “really quite powerful” and that contemporary art is “quite beautiful” because of its ability to affect people in different ways.

“Contemporary art could probably be more obscure than other types of art. It becomes much more abstract in a way and I think the more abstract you make it, sometimes you can lose people and sometimes you take people with you,” he said.

“Some people may not know the meaning behind art, but I’ve seen kids in the boat, I’ve seen adults in the boat just sitting there and enjoying it and that’s quite beautiful.

“I think what’s really important is the history of these institutions and I think the ability for someone like me – a working class artist who comes from a particular background – to have conversations in settings like this is really quite powerful.”

Different objects outside
Artwork by Osman Yousefzada in the John Madejeski Garden at the V&A (The British Council/PA)

He added that through his art, he wanted to highlight the culture of Pakistan.

“The conversation I wanted to have about Pakistan is that you can’t deny everything that happened before 1947,” he said.

“You have a land which is one of the oldest civilizations known to mankind and those are really part of our histories and I wanted to drive that conversation forward.

“My dad said that if you ever forget your roots, you don’t really know who you are.”

He said that the first intervention was intended to represent Tarot cards and he thought it would be a “nice way to open the show”.

“You have these Tarot cards, like the same way when you migrate – you don’t really know what’s going to happen, what your life is going to be like and then you flip over a card and you don’t know whether you are going to be successful or not,” he said.

Posters hanging from a ceiling
Osman Yousefzada’s first intervention (The British Council/PA)

Skinder Hundal, director arts at the British Council, said: “This project is an embodiment of what the British Council and the High Commission of Pakistan are setting out to achieve with the New Perspectives Season- creating a bridge between cultures, challenging perceptions, and opening up new narratives and channels of discourse between contemporary societies in Pakistan and the UK.”

August 17 is the last day of South Asian Heritage Month, which began on July 18 and aims to celebrates the legacies and cultural history of countries including Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

The free exhibit is open until September 25 from 10am-5.30pm, at the V&A in South Kensington, London, and more details can be found on this link: https://www.vam.ac.uk/event/o9GydwJBb2/osman-yousefzada-what-is-seen-and-what-is-not-2022