SEHER SHAH: THE LIGHTNESS OF MASS
Exhibition Dates: 14 March – 9 May 2016
Opening Reception: Monday, 14 March 2016, 6 – 9 PM
Green art Gallery presents The Lightness of Mass, Seher Shah's first solo show in Dubai.
The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with essays by Shanay Jhaveri, the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Assistant Curator of South Asian Art, and Murtaza Vali, an independent writer and curator based between Brooklyn and Sharjah.
Throughout her practice, Seher Shah has consistently re-shaped representation. Working with both drawing and sculpture, she has revisited the mainstays of architectural representational methods—plan, elevation, section—to inject unsettling slippages into their rigorous formalism. If, in the past, her practice has knowingly toyed with the frontier between the resolutely rational and the vaguely visceral, this new body of work fully embraces that visceral slant.
Shah, unsurprisingly, perhaps, given her architecture background, is pre-occupied by forms—from poised Bronze Age monoliths to the sculptural composition of Brutalist buildings. Yet materiality is central to The Lightness of Mass—the deposit of ink on paper, the coarseness of sand cast iron, even the drawn line operates as an almost palpable material component in large-scale drawings. Shah interrogates time not only by foregrounding the natural weathering of man-made materials—the slowly oxidizing iron sculptures echo the time-worn stone of hewn megaliths—but also by navigating the role of memory in the process of seeing.
The “ghosted” images of Brutalist Traces teeter between presence and absence. From the New Delhi Municipal Council to London’s Barbican Centre, the series eerily freeze-frames daunting Brutalist structures that at once dominate the landscape and are isolated within it. Shah dissolves the buildings in her drawings, using line no longer to faithfully render, but to abstract and erase.
Flatlands, presented here in its largest form of 9 ink-on-paper panels framed, proscenium-like, by black rectangles, springs from an attempt to reinterpret the language of mark making. By abstracting the purely rational language of architectural drawing, Shah introduces an element of playfulness. Uncertainty abounds: scrims shift, their translucency preventing any clear foreground or background to emerge; grids are atop grids, morphing into columns. The seriousness of the perspective view is undercut, and architecture becomes a space newly open to experience and feeling. Similarly, the Unit Object etchings liberate classic architectural representations from their restrictive process of perspective drawing, introducing them into a fluid dance of line and the material corporeality of ink. A single woodcut from Shah’s Hewn series, yet another celebration of materiality, unexpectedly bows into the show.
A quiet weight emanates from both the Machrie Moor series of images, a collaboration with photographer Randhir Singh, and the Untitled sculptures in sand cast iron. Stone and iron are deeply elemental materials, and yet, through Shah’s eyes, highly visceral; the works are man-made—carved and cast—and yet resist control. Windswept and weathered, they continue to evolve over time, their mass quietly, slowly being erased away.
Across six series of works in The Lightness of Mass, Shah deftly collapses the binary of the show’s title, illustrating that weight and lightness, far from being contradictory, exist, in fact, simultaneously. They comprise a single state of being.