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The Skin She Wears: Naiza H. Khan

Preview by Lizzie Guilfoyle

THE FIRST solo exhibition in Europe of work by Naiza H. Khan, The Skin She Wears, will be on display at Rossi & Rossi from September 24 to October 25, 2008.

Khan, an acclaimed Pakistani artist, lives and works in Karachi where her work has been exhibited to much acclaim. She has also exhibited in Dubai, Hong Kong, Islamabad, Mumbai and New York. The Skin She Wears will comprise some 15 recent sculptures and drawings.

For over a decade, Khan has focused on a thematic meditation on the female body and she says that The Skin She Wears began as a strategy to explore the emotional content of the body through attire, such as lingerie, chastity belts, straitjackets and other objects.

The clothes locate the body more explicitly and what it confronts between personal and political spaces. They also create multiple identities or personae. The armour pieces began with drawings of lingerie and specifically a ‘bullet-proof vest’ that called to be made in metal rather than drawn.

Over the last two years, objects have developed such as the ‘armour-skirt’ that is at the same time flirtatious and oppresive. These objects find a place between war and love, and are ambiguous in their position of aggression and seduction.

Among the first objects Khan made are two galvanised steel pieces, Armour-lingerie IV and Armour-lingerie V, both available in editions of three. Khan says of these works:

“I felt at that time (2007) it was important to consider the body through attire, but that the duality of it remained within the work somehow – part clothing, part body. Also, coincidentally, at this time (February 2007), the issue of the Red Mosque (Lal Masjid) had flared up in Islamabad where we saw for the first time women in Hijab taking a very strident and aggressive role in protecting their religious beliefs. I wanted to create my own army in response to this social phenomenon.”

Amongst the drawings, Armour I, 2007, charcoal on paper, is the first in a series of drawings that have developed as a tool for the artist’s imagination. Khan says: “I see these pieces of attire become more hybrid and illusionary as I draw them – something between real and fictitious – a sort of wardrobe that often reflects contradictory messages.”

Khan’s recent installation at ArtDubai 2008 caused quite a stir. Entitled The Crossing, it was created for the Pakistani Pavilion and comprised a wooden boat, galvanised steel armour pieces, fabric and leather. The artist explained:

“We live in the year 1429 Zil-Hajj. In the year 1429 AD, Joan of Arc led the French army to victory in the Siege of Orleans. She was a supernatural phenomenon. And so, in Pakistan we seek Paradise and wait to be led. The armour pieces float between the different time zones that we inhabit within this country. I am not sure if they are about the future or the past. They are like skins off the body that we shed or embrace as we negotiate The Crossing.”

The London exhibition will include a work entitled Pearl Divers, 2008. This watercolour is described by the artist as “important as it brought together the emotional content that I was searching for whilst working on the large installation of The Crossing. I realised what the installation was about and why I was making it. The title came about because Utamaro’s Pearl Divers has always fascinated me, in the way that the women are shown, in such an un-Japanese state of undress! So the title came about, as a search and a journey.”

The charcoal, conte and acrylic work Heavenly Ornaments III dates from 2005 and is part of a triptych, expressing Khan’s personal and political thoughts gleaned from ‘Heavenly Ornaments’, one of the best-known works by the renowned Indian Muslim scholar and mystic (Sufi), Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanawi, and one which has become a handbook for leading an Islamic life in the Muslim household.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue.

Times: Monday to Friday, 10am to 5:30pm; Saturday, 11am to 4pm.

Price range: £1,000 to £10,000.

Rossi & Rossi Ltd, 16 Clifford Street, London, W1S 3RG.

Telephone: 020 7734 6487.