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Art review: Saad Qureshi: Conversations before the End of Time at the Djanogly Gallery, Nottingham

23 February 2024

Jonathan Evens views an exploration by Saad Qureshi in Nottingham

nick dunmur

Installation view from “Saad Qureshi: Conversations before the End of Time”. See gallery for more images

Installation view from “Saad Qureshi: Conversations before the End of Time”. See gallery for more images

IMAGES and ideas of heaven and hell continue to inspire artists and to engage the wider public. Two examples include the opulent and intricate paradisaical enamel paintings of Raqib Shaw and Pablo Bronstein’s Hell in its Heyday series from 2021. With Conversations before the end Of Timeat the Djanogly Gallery, Saad Qureshi is exploring both ends of the spectrum.

Qureshi spoke to people of all faiths and none while creating his Something About Paradise sculptures for display in the chapel at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park in 2020. The buildings that he houses within these long, sinuous, humped, and hilly sculptures are based on images shared with him during those conversations. He has not disclosed the content of those conversations, but we can see that people located paradise in buildings ranging from the sublimity of Gothic or Eastern sacred spaces to the delights of holiday homes in sunny climes. These are all rendered in sculptures that draw both on the inspiration of Chinese ink wash paintings and the Gothic art of fantasy.

Qureshi speaks of the resulting images as “mindscapes” that combine elements of landscape and architecture, both urban and rural, as well as pure fantasy. He portrays a paradise of the afterlife with sprawling palaces, and a paradise of the here and now, with quaint communities and treehouses. These sculptures combine the intimacy of a child’s treehouse with the toweringly sublime expanse of a Gothic tower. They extend serpent-like across the floor and up the walls of the gallery, because they need to encompass and embody a wide range of differing conceptions of paradise. It may even be that the undulating ground of these paradisaical scenes has synergies with the world serpent of Norse myth.

Qureshi draws on a wide range of religious and mythological references in the works shown here. His Tanabanas (large paper tapestries) first reference the Tree of Life before extending to embrace arches and stained-glass windows from churches, cathedrals, and mosques. To create the Tanabanas, Qureshi first prints images of textiles on to paper, softening and blurring them. He then slices the images into strips, disrupting and abstracting the images and patterns of the original textiles. Finally, he weaves these paper slices together in a grid of horizontals and verticals, creating new but related images.

Born in Pakistan and raised in Bradford, Qureshi was brought up in an environment that regarded textiles as objects of skill and artistry. His grandfather was a tailor in the British Army and brought his family to the UK from Pakistan in the 1950s. The Tanabanas link Qureshi’s practice as an artist to generations of makers before him and a long family tradition in craft and needlework.

nick dunmurInstallation view from “Saad Qureshi: Conversations before the End of Time”

It is significant, too, that the Tanabanas are composite images, as is also the case with the Something About Paradise sculptures. Qureshi is essentially exploring or creating commonalities and connections (perhaps within our collective unconscious) with regard to the ideas and images of religions and myths.

One of the most beautiful images in the exhibition is a hanging fibreglass, resin, idenden, and paint moon, Night Jewel, which shows, as the viewer circles it, both its light and dark sides. This image captures the twin poles of this exhibition in one image, perhaps suggesting connection between both.

Hell is explored most fully in a series of 33 watercolours that Qureshi has called Hell is Empty, which are being exhibited here for the first time. These jewel-like paintings are both startling and humorous, referencing that combination of characteristics which is also to be found in gargoyles, pages from illuminated manuscripts, and tarot cards. Qureshi is here imagining devils let loose from hell — as in the quotation from The Tempest which gives the series its title — to evoke the forces of fire, mischief, and destruction in the world.

Qureshi has been called “one of our most pensive and poetic artists”: an apposite insight reinforced by this exhibition of mindscapes exploring paradise, religion, and mythology. Also included are sculptural Gates: thresholds or gateways to the imagined realms. Through these works, Qureshi is essentially opening to us the gates of heaven and hell and inviting us in.

“Saad Qureshi: Conversations before the End of Time” is at the Djanogly Art Gallery, University Park, Nottingham, until 14 April. Phone 0115 95 13192. www.lakesidearts.org.uk

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