TNS: Archaeology of the future

Posted On: Sunday, October 9th, 2022 | by project88pressadmin

by Quddus Mirza

Artist Risham Syed offers a view of our existence, normally unnoticed due to its familiarity

Archaeology of the future

Arriving in London in 1994 to acquire her MA Painting from the Royal College of Art, Risham Syed bought that small book, which every traveller and resident of the metropolis used to have, London AZ, the street atlas, with all lanes, roads and neighbourhoods clearly marked, mapped and defined.

In 2022, you hardly find this publication in a bookstore, or at tourist shops – because of Google maps, an app that enables a user to find his/ her way with the help of a smart phone anywhere in the world.

Before these handy devices, humans needed to navigate their routes, record their voyages, document their conquests and plan their trade with maps made on multiple surfaces. Maps were also a means to connect and contextualise one’s location – hence identity – in relation to other regions. From the Babylonian world map (750-500 BCE) to Indian, Chinese, Aztec, Arab, Medieval European and colonial cartography, mankind has been denoting/ documenting its surroundings, employing several methods, means and systems.

Some of the earliest maps are commerce routes, or sketches of distant lands occupied by invaders. In a sense, there is no difference between the two. For example, the East India Company started its business as a merchandising body, but eventually became an accomplice in the occupation of the subcontinent. The phenomenon has gone on till this day in various disguises. Culture, politics, ideologies are spread through commercial goods. In this age, multinational businesses entail the strategy of alienating a people from the harmony of their traditional existence: creating a yearning and need in them for items produced outside of their geography, way of living, environment and introducing products that satiate their inflated desires/ requirements. Billions enjoying Coke in Asia, Africa, and Latin America are substituting their conventional beverages for the Yankee delight, thus yielding an invisible supremacy to North America/ West. McDonald’s, Papa John’s, Levi’s Jeans are just a few names in the long list of food and clothes chains that have transformed societies around the globe.

Risham Syed, recognises this situation in her recent work on display at her solo exhibition Appointments and Disappointments with History (September 27-October 6) at Canvas Gallery, Karachi. A total of eight artworks installed at the gallery (abundantly lit, but suspended in dark space) are mainly textile-based surfaces along with domestic objects. Hung like carpet/ partition/ painting, the artist has created quilts with layers of images. Her show seems like a walk through a museum of industrialisation, colonisation, and exploitation.

The quilt like panels are fabricated with Chinese silk of her “mother’s prized possession. She [the mother] would talk about making quilts out of these”. Now the daughter has accomplished her mother’s plan, by “probing the history of this fabric as a material tied up with trade, power, class and culture, hence smeared with violence, drudgery, upheaval and turmoil”.


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