'Traces': Ali Kazim at Asia Pacific Triennial

Lahore-based Ali Kazim is one of five Pakistani artists at the 9th Asia Pacific Triennial of contemporary art. His new work evokes time and memory with detailed paintings of ruins from rural Punjab.

Each project Ali Kazim takes on brings him to a deeper understanding of what it means to be human. His latest project Traces presents detailed renditions of ruins from the Indus Valley Civilisation, which began with his interest in a sculpture discovered from Mohenjo-daro of “Priest King” (2600-1900 BEC) - arguably, the first known example of human portraiture from the region. 

Fascinated by man's relationship to the environment and natural materials, Kazim’s attention transitioned to landscapes. But he nonetheless strives to find portraits of human identity even in scenes of nature. “This landscape work is also about people,” he says - “their remains.”

Ali Kazim,  Untitled  (Ruins Series), 2014-15. Watercolour pigment on paper. Courtesy of the APT9. Collection of the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art.

Ali Kazim, Untitled (Ruins Series), 2014-15. Watercolour pigment on paper. Courtesy of the APT9. Collection of the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art.

Similar to the process of fossilisation carried out the Indus Valley sites he visits, Kazim uses a natural powder pigment and fine brushes to depict immense detail on paper, then placing them in water in order to set the pigment permanently. “Dust has the power to destroy or preserve something”, he explains.

Ali Kazim,  Untitled  (Lightning Series), 2018. Dry pigment on mylar. Courtesy of the artist.

Ali Kazim, Untitled (Lightning Series), 2018. Dry pigment on mylar. Courtesy of the artist.

Kazim’s interest with materials and humans is not new - his acclaimed entry to the Karachi Biennale in 2017 used human hair, collected from wig vendors in Lahore, to explore the external, physical condition of our humanity.

Kazim is also interested in clay and how it “becomes a part of our DNA, our habits - part of our collective memory.” Accompanying the landscapes on display at the 9th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (in Brisbane, Australia) are the artist’s clay ceramics, physically recreating the essence of the ruins and demonstrating how we relate to our surroundings by shaping materials.

Kazim’s use of black and white conveys a sense of something that once was; adding colour, he believes, would bring the work to the present moment. The fleeting sandstorm in Untitled (Storm Series) and the lightning bolt in Untitled (Lightning Series) are rendered timeless through the immense detail of the works.

Ali Kazim,  Untitled  (Storm Series), 2018. Dry pigment on mylar. Courtesy of the artist.

Ali Kazim, Untitled (Storm Series), 2018. Dry pigment on mylar. Courtesy of the artist.

Four other renowned Pakistani artists are presented at the Asia Pacific Triennial - Waqas Khan, Aisha Khalid, Naiza Khan and Rasheed Araeen, each bringing unique techniques and themes, representing the vast talent of Pakistan’s art scene.


Olivia Burt