IWM Contemporary: Mahwish Chishty
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Mahwish Chishty grew up in Pakistan, but now lives in the US – which must give her a uniquely dual perspective on the CIA drone attacks that have blighted her home country in the years since 9/11 and resulted in the deaths of many hundreds of civilians. But what’s so immediately strange about the paintings and objects on display in this show is just how beautiful they are.
Chishty trained in miniature painting in Lahore. In the artworks seen here, she’s adorned the wings and fuselage of model drone planes with the gilded surfaces and flower-like patterns of this rich artistic tradition. In some images, they’ve been decorated with the star-and-crescent symbol of Islam. In others, they’ve been given pairs of eyes, turning these surveillance craft into ever-watchful predators. Other panel paintings superimpose the drones over newspaper clippings and street scenes – inserting them, literally, into Pakistani society. Plastic aircraft models, titled ‘reapers’, are painted in the gaudy colours typically associated with the ‘jingle trucks’ of South Asia.
You have to wonder what Chishty is trying do here. Is she highlighting how the cultures of America and Pakistan are forever entwined in these instruments of destruction? Is she trying to redeem them with beauty? If so, is it a gesture of defiance or conciliation? Drones are surely one of the great atrocities of the twenty-first century – but you won’t find any propaganda here. Instead, these glittering, troubling little conundrums ask questions about what role art can play in a world beset by violence and war.