BOLD work by artists Waqas Khan and Neha Choksi has taken over the top floors of Manchester Art Gallery this month.
Curator Natasha Howes, who has worked closely with both artists, says their work is very different but has huge relevance to modern living.
She says: “Neha Choksi has made a brand-new piece specially for us in Manchester and it’s a seven-channel film installation. It’s really immersive. You’re surrounded by five projections and two monitors.
“She has gone to a Jain Ashram which is North of Mumbai, and that’s a place for spiritual retreat where people go to escape from normal life.
“The architecture is really fascinating because you have these buildings that aren’t quite finished yet so it feels very raw.”
Choksi travelled to Mumbai with a group of her friends to film an investigation of what it’s like to be an individual and how, as individuals, we’re all created by the group of friends we have around us.
“It’s all about that relationship between the individual and their community,” says Howes. “And how we can be different with different groups of friends that we’re with and how that really shapes the whole of our personalities.”
“She told me what she was planning on doing but I didn’t really know the details and it wasn’t until I actually saw the first cut that I realised what the film was and how these seven different films would all work together,” Howes recalls.
Also at the Manchester Art Gallery is a showcase of Waqas Khan’s drawings created by millions of pen marks.
Khan has created some very abstract compositions out of tiny little marks that could be reminiscent of webs, starry skies or biological organisms.
“His drawing are absolutely incredible because they’re made up of tiny, tiny marks, Howes explains. “But yet he works on an incredibly large scale.”
Khan is inspired by the lives and literature of Sufi poets and has tried to make people think about the world and the universe andour relationship with it and our relationship with each other.
“In a way, it’s a very universal language he’s using because you don’t need to know anything to come look at his works,” says Howes.
“And when he talks about them he talks about this idea of it’s all about his contemplation.
Khan uses meditation as inspiration.
“When he’s making his work he’s making them at night, he slows down his breathing, he holds his pen with two hands to keep it steady and he, sort of, goes into a meditative state to make these amazing, amazing drawings,” Howes describes.
Choski’s film is a highlight of the joint exhibition and was itself a collaboration with seven other artists.
Howes says: “What was thrilling was seeing it for the first time, how the different films related to each other.
What she did was they shot 34 hours worth of footage and then she gave the footage to seven different editors and each editor made a different film using the same footage.”
The films together work as a beautiful montage of imagery depicting the relationship we have with each other and how important relationships are to us as individual human beings.
Khan’s work is very different to Choksi’s and so was Natasha Howes’s experience with him.
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“It’s his first solo exhibition in a museum or gallery anywhere in the world. He’s very interesting because he wants to really engage with the space. He visited the gallery twice on two separate occasions, and he sat in the gallery space and he looked at it, and he thought about the light and he thought about the entrances and exits,” Howes remembers.
“He wanted to take people on a journey. When you come in there’s some smaller works that, sort of, introduce you to his work. Then you come and see a coloured work right at the end of that vista that’s, sort of, drawing you into the space. And then as you turn the corner, the whole space opens out and you see these other works and they are all so carefully placed and selected.”
Both artist’s work are very relevant to now. Khan’s work being “timeless” and the 70th anniversary of the independence of India and the partition of India and Pakistan has influenced the gallery’s reasoning to showcase these works during this Autumn 2017.
Also, spend a good chunk of time in Neha Choksi's vast video installation at Manchester Art gallery. Impressive. Will return. pic.twitter.com/ewzrmZvAbl
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“We really want to increase the culture of diversity of our visitors here to the art gallery. We always do surveys about the people who come into the building, asking where they are from, what ethnicity they are, and very sadly we always have fewer people from a BAME background than in the general population and that’s something that we really wanted to address,” Howes stresses.
Both exhibitions are available to see at Manchester Art Gallery for a limited time