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Eminent artist Rashid Rana is looking forward to the amalgamation of new technologies in his art practice, including experimenting with AI, citing their relationship as “symbiotic”

Widely considered as one of the leading artists in South Asia today, Rana is best known for conceptual innovation and dramatic visual strategies.

“During my time at the National College of Art (NCA), I used to paint,” said Rana, delving deeper into his practice.

“Technology allows more resources to be able to express the time in which it exists – their relationship is symbiotic. It opens up avenues, and possibilities.”

When asked about the advent of AI in the creative world, Rana said he was open to embracing new technologies, citing that it has become a big part of our lives.

 Rashid Rana ‘It Lies Beyond’ | 2022 | Inject Print on Vinyl + Augmented Reality | 4.7 m x 7.8 m x 42.1 m. A site specific installation for Karachi Biennale 2022. Photo: Rashid Rana
Rashid Rana ‘It Lies Beyond’ | 2022 | Inject Print on Vinyl + Augmented Reality | 4.7 m x 7.8 m x 42.1 m. A site specific installation for Karachi Biennale 2022. Photo: Rashid Rana

Rashid Rana’s ‘It Lies Beyond’ alongside COP28: a chance meeting to an inaugural solo exhibit in Dubai

He has also delved in creating artwork in collaboration with an AI expert, but stated that there is still much to be developed in that realm.

“People tend to get swayed at the smallest results and developments, but in my opinion, its possibilities still remain limited. The database needs to expand more, which inevitably it will.

“I’m very open to using AI in my work, wherever it’s required, and if my conceptual needs and ideas take me towards it.”

 A closer view of ‘It Lies Beyond’ | 2022 | Inject Print on Vinyl + Augmented Reality | 4.7 m x 7.8 m x 42.1 m. A site specific installation for Karachi Biennale 2022. Photo: Rashid Rana
A closer view of ‘It Lies Beyond’ | 2022 | Inject Print on Vinyl + Augmented Reality | 4.7 m x 7.8 m x 42.1 m. A site specific installation for Karachi Biennale 2022. Photo: Rashid Rana

Rana looked back at his works, and said his openness to possibilities have allowed his evolution as an artist.

“When I look at my art practice in retrospect, I had not imagined down the road I will be producing the works such as I have the last 15-20 years.

“This has only been possible because I remain open to possibilities.”

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Following solo exhibits all over the world, the past year saw Rana open his very first in Dubai, where he witnessed how the Gulf city is fast becoming a regional center for a creative exchange of ideas.

“Dubai and the UAE have developed exponentially in the last few years,” he added. “It is inclusive of communities from South Asia, North Africa, providing a regional hub for sharing creative works.”

The Dubai exhibit – ‘It Lies Beyond’ currently on display at Volte Art Projects – also appealed to him because the works aligned with the goals of the UN COP28 conference.

Although in the past India has proven to be a great platform for his works, in the post-Modi era, that cultural exchange has slowed down.

“Due to hard political borders within South Asia, Karachi and Mumbai cannot be shared regional centers,” he explained.

“Alternately, the creative community can freely exchange ideas in a place like Dubai.

“For example, at the turn of the 20th century, Paris was the center of art. Post World War II, New York became the centre for art – both for social and political reasons, as well as being a financial center.”

“Post 9/11, in the 21st century, we have seen the emergence of regional centers such as Dubai, Beijing, Shanghai, Berlin,” he added.

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Solo exhibit

‘It Lies Beyond’ – also the title of the exhibit – showcases a photo mosaic of sailing ships, trash and Pakistan’s floods - all shedding light on the materialistic enquiry that has led the world to a climate crisis.

“The title is significant, because I have taken older pieces further. There is an additional layer of technology – that of Virtual Reality,” added Rana.

To that end, static images turn into videos on one’s smartphone. “You are able to engage with and have a dialogue with the artwork through Virtual Reality.

“I used Augmented Reality within ‘It Lies Beyond’, because I thought it could add another dimension to ‘Offshore Accounts’. I ended up updating an existing body of work for the new exhibit, realising its timeless. It can also speak in a new way.”

This is not Rana’s first foray into experimenting with technology. In collaboration with a friend, a neo-biologist Dr Faisal Khan, Rana recently created a DNA-based work that is currently on display in Mumbai.

“If you embed certain information within DNA, it can be decoded at any point in history.”

Rana is also Dean at BNU which offers a course on synthetic biology to art students.

“In my practice, largely speaking, I would like to continue exploring more possibilities within the DNA-based works. If there is a breakthrough, I would like to develop a new body of work to be exhibited next year.”

Canvas Gallery represents Pakistan at 15th edition of Abu Dhabi Art

‘It Lies Beyond’ – an extension of ‘Offshore Accounts’, was first produced in 2006 – was also recreated for the Karachi Biennale 2022 as an installation in NED University.

Speaking about the logistical challenges of producing a work of such scale – the installation spanned a 42-metre deep hall – he said he wanted to create something special for the audience in Karachi.

Rana will also curate a show for the upcoming Design Summit in Lahore this year.

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