In her solo show, From Paper to Monument, at Nature Morte Gallery in New Delhi, the Brooklyn-based artist Seher Shah displayed thirty drawings and prints.
Born in Karachi and raised in Brussels, London, and New York, Shah has exhibited her work in major group shows at such venues as the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin, the Queens Museum of Art, New York, and the Brooklyn Art Museum, New York. In the United States, Shah’s artworks are frequently misread as visible evidence of what it means to be Muslim or Pakistani in a post–9/11 America. Yet the global circulation of her prints and drawings challenges such identitarian modalities of analysis and more broadly contests the rising popularity of “Islamic art” as a coherent aesthetic category. Drawing upon her training as an architect and her method as an archivist, I explore how Shah’s recent work provocatively alters nationalist frameworks of viewing.
In her large-scale digital giclée print, Geometric Landscapes and the Spectacle of Force, Shah deploys archival photographs of the 1903 Delhi Durbar fairground and processions alongside her own drawings of contemporary monuments in order to bind together memories of the British Empire in South Asia with the domestic expansion of empire in the United States. In her black-and-white print, Shah reproduces photographic negatives from official archives of the 1903 Durbar, commemorating the coronation of King Edward VII, in order to delineate a spectral arena of violence outlined through the silhouettes of the British Viceroy, his army, and memorials to war. Mapped across the expansive space of the print, the architectural lines of these monuments are tethered to Shah’s own drawings of skyscrapers, pillars, and cenotaphs covered by the American flag.
The nonlinear narratives of temporality that emerge through this perversion of the archival photograph sutures the divide between a colonial past and postcolonial present and fractures iconic topographies of the Indian subcontinent and the United States. Against the opaque surface of the print, what appears in ghostly relief are new geometries of diasporic locality.