We are excited to announce our support for the 14th edition of Sharjah Biennial SB14, Shezad Dawood’s newly-commissioned project Encroachments. The work takes a pragmatic and oblique look at the relations between Pakistan and the US since partition in 1947 through a new Virtual Reality environment, contained within two mirrored installations comprising: neon, wallpaper and print.
The narrative behind Encroachments is a meditation on the idea of sovereignty, private property and the politics of space in the 2 largest cities in Pakistan (Lahore & Karachi). The term Encroachment is used to designate the backlash in Pakistani politics and the media against so-called illegal structures built onto the fabric of existing private and state infrastructure. These ad-hoc encampments become social and commercial apparatuses for the lower classes, and reflect a grass-roots entrepreneurialism, and reclamation of space.
Austrian-American Modernist architect Richard Neutra was selected to make the proposed US embassy in Karachi, and construction began in 1959. However, by the time it was completed the capital was moved to the new city of Islamabad, and Neutra’s building was downgraded to a Consulate.
The central element of the VR is the building itself. But on the journey there and onwards, the user passes through various parallel environments, including renowned colonial-era bookshop: Ferozsons in Lahore, established in 1894, which resembles a maze game, before giving way to a secret passage into the Reagan years and a video game arcade that makes reference to anti-Soviet propaganda that fuelled a large amount of early game design evolving against the backdrop of the Soviet-Afghan war.
Each scene is punctuated by a different key track from the unique niche music scene that developed in the late 60s in Pakistan, as local bands made up of mixed Muslim and Christian musicians drew parallel inspiration from classical Indian ragas and the layers of sound pioneered by both Phil Spector and Brian Wilson. Dawood has been collecting anecdotes from several of the original band members (of bands such as The Panthers and The Fore Thoughts), in order to gain a better insight into this polyglot generation, and the alternative possibilities it proposes.
The VR is staged within an environment wallpapered with digital terrazzo patterns created by the artist, to riff off the ubiquitous use of low-grade terrazzo in Pakistan, which features as the flooring in both Neutra’s consulate and was commonplace in Pakistani gaming arcades of the 1980s. And to play further with this juxtaposition of interior and exterior space, the other elements are hung on the wallpaper and comprise: tapestries, neon and an imagined band poster from a teenage Karachi bedroom of the 1960s.
Encroachments is co-commissioned by Sharjah Art Foundation and New Art Exchange, Nottingham. Generously supported by the Bagri Foundation. Produced by Sharjah Art Foundation and UBIK Productions. Special thanks to the Hashoo Group, Gul Ahmed, EMI Pakistan. Courtesy of the artist, Jhaveri Contemporary, Mumbai and Timothy Taylor, London. Encroachments will travel in an expanded form to New Art Exchange, Nottingham in January 2020.
We were delighted to pay a visit to Shezad’s studio earlier this year to see the work in progress and some of his other pieces.