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In the field of art, whoever confronts the power and structures of the media, steps into an uneven competition – which can hardly be won. The mainstream media’s foreign newscasts follow its own agenda of logic and narrative imperatives. When regarding Pakistan, since September 11, 2001 and the subsequent “War on Terror,” the Western view has become very narrow and hardened. When an artist attempts to take up a position that has another agenda, one comes from the margins, the edges, Bani Abidi says, an artist living in Karachi and Delhi. Still, in her works the 1971 Karachi-born artist tries to free up less stereotypical views on her immediate surroundings.

She is not interested in “breaking news” or world-shattering events loudly reported on CNN, but sees her “much more pleasurable task” in “articulating the ever-changing, nuanced, and hopefully absorbing.” That is to say, she’s most productive when motivated by the micro-political moments of everyday life. In one of her first video works Mangoes (1999), two women – an Indian and a Pakistani – eat mangos while having a conversation. The latent tension and the eternal strife between both India and Pakistan becomes a theme when they begin to fight about which country is the leading country for producing mangoes.

How politics is mirrored in things is reflected in the multi-part piece “Security Barriers A-L,” a series of alphabetized inkjet prints, depicting various kinds of road blocks in Karachi – from road blocks at airports up to giant concrete barricades in front of the American consulate.
In Abidi’s isolated representation and group specific arrangement they become recognizable as media signs in the urban fabric, which signify the traffic-related endeavors as well as the desired protection from attacks.

Also in Reserved (2006), an early video work projected on two screens, these barricades appear in a city preparing for a visit from a high-ranking politician. Only in the representation of the preparations and the happenings on the sidelines does the political mise-en-scene become clear. Hence, Abidi’s art is less directed against “the” media or political-theater itself but instead makes the unimportant side aspects of engraved narrative structures – in the sense of “enlightened” work – legible.


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