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Life & Style

Marking 75 years of Pakistan at the V&A Museum in London

  • Pakistani interdisciplinary artist Osman Yousefzada debuts installation works at Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) in London
Published August 14, 2022
Photo: Kamila Rangoonwala
Photo: Kamila Rangoonwala
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Osman Yousefzada, the Pakistani interdisciplinary artist, recently debuted 3 installation works titled ‘What is Seen, What is Not’ at the Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) in London.

Yousefzada’s work is a commission by the British Council in partnership with the Pakistan High Commission and the V&A. The collaboration has been timed to mark 75 years of independence and to Partition, but also to celebrate Pakistan’s connection with the United Kingdom and all the Pakistanis that call the UK home.

These ‘interventions’ across the museum are free to visit, and have been commissioned as part of the British Council’s festival season ‘Pakistan/UK: New Perspectives,’ according to a press release issued by the British Council.

The debut of the works was marked by an opening reception with speeches from the director of the V&A, Pakistan High Commission and British Council, followed by a commissioned choreographed performance by Dickson Mbi in the John Madejski garden.

The performance featured 3 dancers (2 dressed in a vibrant red and 1 in jet black) set to a moving instrumental piece. It was incredible to see the huge crowd that had descended on the garden who were enjoying the performance and filming the piece. The performance was centred around themes of shrines and Sufiism. The Sufi ideals of change and transcendence play a central component to Yousefzada’s works as it represents the mass migration that took place in 1947.

Photo: Kamila Rangoonwala
Photo: Kamila Rangoonwala

A preview of the installations were part of a programme called ‘Late Night at the V&A’ which celebrated contemporary South Asia and its art. The programme featured talks, films, live performances and music. The success of the gathering was evident as it saw hundreds of young individuals from the South Asian diaspora in attendance.

The 3 site-specific installations have all been created using different media, each referring to layers of themes and artistic practices. The works were created with skilled local artisans in Karachi where Yousefzada spent 6 months creating the works.

Of the installation, Yousefzada said: “It’s a great honour to be commissioned to reflect on the 75 years of Pakistan’s independence. ‘What is Seen and What is Not’ offers a portrait of contemporary Pakistan, through a British diasporic lens as it attempts to reel away from colonial subjugation."

"However, Pakistan is still a casualty of neo-colonial structures, contributing less than 1% to green gas emissions and in return it is the 5th most vulnerable country to climate change, as rising temperatures result in great floods and an eventual loss of the Himalayan ice reservoirs, causing tremendous displacement and a loss of homeland to its people,” he was quoted as saying in the press release.

The first work is an installation situated in the grand entrance of the V&A.

The three magnificent tapestry panels refer to themes of ‘futurism,’ ‘tarot cards’ and ‘New Worlds.’ This alludes to the migrant experience as when an individual moves from one home to another, they are playing with ‘cards of chance.’

The work also alludes to the history of the region and serves as a reminder of the historical and cultural aspects that existed for hundreds of years prior to partition, and how the date of 1947 shouldn’t eradicate those histories.

The second installation is located in the John Madejski courtyard. Yousefzada highlights how he was inspired by the fact that it was a “communal space,” while speaking to the Business Recorder.

The installation consists of charpais, benches and stools which are free to be used by individuals. The constant movement of packing and unpacking of the benches and stools shows the metamorphosis of the traditional sculpture - into a moving one that stretches out over an expansive space. This is linked to the migrant experience and how with all these moving parts, we come together to create a community.

The installation also places weight on the climate crisis as the charpais were weaved with waste from factory floors. The centrepiece of the installation is the boat with the banners. Yousefzada stated how “it marks the beginning of South Asia’s relationship with colonialism.”

The V&A itself is a by-product of colonialism and the banners are inspired by the Victorian chis pattern. Yousefzada refers to it as “taking something from inside the colonial structure and taking it outwards.” The benches are made from salvaged colonial doors of the 1930s, and taking them from a vertical axis to a horizontal axis (turning them from doors to benches) reflects an evolution of denying access to everyone to becoming accessible to anyone.

The third installation pays homage, as Yousefzada says, to the “female agency in the patriarchal space.” The installation is marked by a variety of belongings packed up into different fabrics and plastic bags. This reminds us of the migratory experience, and how many that migrate feel that the move is never permanent, and a tied-up bag of belongings can be a way to claim ownership - that “this space is mine.”

Overall, it is exciting to see a contemporary Pakistani artist such as Yousefzada exhibiting works in the V&A. The inclusion of 3 installation works on display at such an important institution highlights that even though partition may have impacted borders – it can also bring Pakistani’s together as a community in a city like London.

Osman Yousefzada’s installations are on view at the V&A until 25 September 2022.


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Dr Wasim Aug 14, 2022 05:00pm
Why are we showcasing dance with respect to Pakistan. It isn't our culture. Just like Pakistan being represented by a 'kamala' girl.
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