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As in a sleight-of-hand, meanings change before your very eyes in Rashid Rana’s multi-layered paintings. His object, however, is not to deceive. Humorous and provocative, his works awaken the viewer to the dynamic and uncertain cultural conditions of Pakistan. At first glance, when only the English words “Eternal” and “Love” register with a veil of roses borrowed from mass-produced greeting cards, LOVE is ETERNAL as Long as it Lasts seems to be a romantic idealization. The sarcastic self-contradictory title emerges with the recognition of the Urdu-alphabet words, running in counter direction. Rana’s interweaving of English and Urdu mimics a common practice in the media, commercial signs and vernacular speech of Pakistan and invokes the unstable cultural conditions that result from cultural intersection. In the billboard sized What is so PAKISTANI About this PAINTING? Rana mocks the effort to identify a unique Pakistani culture after colonialism and globalization. He hired labor to paint two versions of Jean Baptiste Carpeaux’s 19th century paean to artistic genius; they flank a large swathe of cheap fabric of foreign design bought locally at Ichra bazaar in Lahore. These unconventional choices of materials and methods do not dismiss the question of cultural identity. They underscore the challenge in his motley title – part Urdu, part English. Is it possible to establish of a new kind of cultural wholeness borne of a critically engaged art?

Text by Karin Miller Lewis Indo Center For Art And Culture, New York