IMAGE? The Power of the Visual explores image-making over the centuries through the lens of historic and contemporary artworks from diverse Muslim cultures.
The 62-piece exhibition reflects on humanity’s timeless preoccupation with images and explores their capacity to project power, reflect inner spiritual or poetic visions, give expression to ideals held dear, or express key aspects of identity.
We are surrounded, in fact inundated, by images and we often have little time to contemplate their deeper meaning; IMAGE? aims to open the visitor’s eyes to the power of images that surround us every day, be they in museums and galleries, on our smartphones or in the mass media.
The artifacts on display include exquisite folios, manuscripts, tiles, panels, drawings, paintings, bowls, photographs, textiles, and videos from the Museum’s own Collection; including 17 international loans from North America, Europe, and the Middle East from lenders such as The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Art Institute of Chicago, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and Shahzia Sikander.
The exhibition is divided into four main sections, with each one focusing on different aspects of how images express — and, in turn, shape — our beliefs, ideals, and experiences.
Power and Authority
The first section showcases how rulers across the centuries have used carefully coded, visual strategies to assert power and advance their ideas about ideal rulership.
Faith and Spirituality
This section examines the age-old question of how to commune with the Divine using artistic means and visualizations.
Values and Ideals
From bravery and loyalty to love and freedom, the third section shines a light on how human qualities and notions are brought to life through storytelling and idealized images.
Identity and Self
The exhibition concludes with a section devoted to Identity and considers how human beings have always aimed to project their identities, culminating in today’s selfie-obsessed and saturated global visual culture that dramatically shapes our understanding of ourselves, others, and the world at large.
Exhibition highlight: A cloud of images
Montreal-based artist Roberto Pellegrinuzzi’s work at the start of the exhibition includes 275,000 individual images, the total number of frames the sensor on each smartphone camera is designed to capture before it starts to degrade. The imposing installation, which appears to be levitating above the ground, is a compelling reminder of the overwhelming barrage of disposable imagery and visual stimuli that we now live with. In stark contrast to past eras, when image-making and storytelling required creative drive and extraordinary skill, Pellengrinuzzi underscores the notion that, in these times, a more passive action can often suffice — the mere press of a button on a screen.
A new artwork titled Together, Alone by Pakistani multimedia artist Rashid Rana, will make its world debut in IMAGE?.
Viewed first from a distance, with a clear sight line across the gallery, you see three figures — self-portraits by a 19th-century French photographer. As you get closer, you discover that the image has been created using thousands of selfies, bridging 150 years of people taking photos of themselves and emphasizing the timelessness of humanity’s obsession with projecting an ideal “image” of themselves and what they believe in.
Rana is a founding faculty member and head of the Fine Art Department at Beaconhouse National University in Lahore. Click here to learn more about the project.