'Encroachments' - a meditation on the politics of space

Shezad Dawood’s latest work takes a pragmatic and oblique look at the relations between Pakistan and the US

Encroachments II (Peace air drop)

Encroachments II (Peace air drop)

A series of paintings and sculptures going on display at Art Dubai this week meditate on the idea of sovereignty, private property and the politics of space in Pakistan’s two largest cities - Lahore and Karachi.

Several incidents in Pakistan’s history served as a starting point for London-based artist Shezad Dawood in this creation. Such as the modernist architect Richard Neutra’s construction of a US consulate in Karachi which later served as a sending and receiving station during the Cold War escalation in the 1970s. Or the emergence of pop-up video game arcades in disused commercial buildings and warehouses during the 1980s, signalling the Western craze for alien-zapping that infected Pakistan’s youth in the wake of the Soviet incursion in neighbouring Afghanistan.

For Dawood, incidents like these designate “encroachments” - illegitimate structures built onto the fabric of existing private and state infrastructure, becoming social and commercial apparatuses for the lower classes, and reflect grassroots entrepreneurialism and reclamation of space.

Encroachments I (Jinnah)

Encroachments I (Jinnah)

Encroachments III (Defender)

Encroachments III (Defender)

These works presented in Dubai by Jhaveri Contemporary gallery form part of Dawood’s larger series, entitled Encroachments, commissioned specially for this year’s Sharjah Biennial, where the rest of the project - a virtual reality installation - can be found. Visitors at Sharjah can virtually explore the consulate and arcade games themselves, as well as a renowned colonial-era bookshop and various other environments of Pakistan.

A viewer experiences Dawood’s virtual reality installation at the Sharjah Biennial

A viewer experiences Dawood’s virtual reality installation at the Sharjah Biennial

The experience is wallpapered with digital terrazzo patterns - a nod to the ubiquitous use of low-grade terrazzo in Pakistan. The materials features as the flooring in Neutra’s consulate and was commonplace also in the gaming arcades of the 1980s. Tapestries, neon lights and 1960s music posters hang from the wallpaper as the viewer explores this virtual world, further playing with the juxtaposition of private and public space.

Encroachments IV (Terrazzo)

Encroachments IV (Terrazzo)


Art Dubai runs until 23 March 2019. Sharjah Biennial continues until 10 June 2019.

Clove editors