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The Friday Times

Seher Shah, Argument from Silence (weight and measure), 2019


A series of prints by the artist Seher Shah returns to this history and unsettles its easy integration into the present. Titled ‘Argument from Silence’ (2019), Shah’s portfolio is composed of ten polymer photogravures based on images of the Chandigarh Museum taken in collaboration with the photographer Randhir Singh. They depict the fragmented bodies of the Level 2 gallery: torsos without heads, hands without arms, stucco busts balanced on plinths. The sense of absence or partiality is accelerated by Shah’s accentuation of negative spaces: walls, corners and other crevices are soaked in a deep black ink. In other prints, there are lines cut across the image or assembled into a grid to suggest calculation or measurement.

An ‘argument from silence’ is a form of reasoning that makes a contention based on absence. In historical writing, it names an argument based on a lack of evidence. It is an analysis of what has been left unsaid. The Chandigarh Museum displays artefacts from the past, but it is also a repository of histories that are not named – histories that are foundational to the assembly of objects in the gallery and to the very coming together of the museum. Writing about the prints, Shah explains that she wanted to explore the “underlying violence in relationships between object, history and architecture.” This is a general theme that could provide a window into many museum collections. But in Chandigarh, it identifies the Government Museum as an unacknowledged and powerful monument to the partition of India. 

Glasgow, where ‘Argument from Silence’ was recently on display as part of a Shah retrospective at the Glasgow Print Studio, has at least one significant Gandhara connection. Sir Mortimer Wheeler, the last Director of the Archaeological Survey of India (1944-48), was born in the city in 1890. Wheeler established a field-training school in Taxila, the Gandharan capital, in 1944 and was involved in excavations of the Bhir Mound, some of the site’s oldest ruins. Appointed as Archaeological Advisor to the new Government of Pakistan in 1948, Wheeler was closely engaged with questions of patrimony in the state’s early years, helping to restructure museum collections and mediating some of the disputes with India over objects and artefacts. 

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