The Mancunion

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Remembering Partition with New North South: Waqas Khan

Manchester Art Gallery invites you to experience detail up close


The distinctively detailed work of Waqas Khan is the next artist to appear in our feature on the New North South programme. As each piece demands your attention in the quietest way possible, the work is at once understated yet commanding — ensuring you experience the trance-like state of Khan’s work, rather than merely view it.

Initially entering the low-lit room, it seems to be haunted with negative space, but this only provokes you further to engage with the subtlety of Khan’s work, as each piece is intricately composed of minuscule repetitions in line and pattern.

However, this intricate mark making of linear forms evolves into large-scale geometric and abstract forms as it’s duplicated over and over. Providing a spectacular tension with what is seemingly a painstaking process taking on an almost organic quality of work. This cellular nature is also emulated in that each piece develops from different perspectives – the longer you look at it the more you get from it.

Delirious and disorientating, each piece takes control of how you view it. The sweeping detail dictates how you must walk around it, negotiate it, and interact with it. You find yourself getting get right up close to it in wonder, urging yourself to find an imperfection, a mistake — but Khan has meticulous control.

It would be easy to contain something so small and detailed to such a small scale — when his work was shown in 2013 at the V&A it was accompanied by a magnifying glass — yet Khan’s central work fills the entire floor space of the gallery. Ensuring detail is explored in every format.

Khan references Sufism – an inward dimension of Islam – as a trait which is pervasive throughout his work, stating “For me, Sufism is like meditation, that kind of calm”. It’s precisely this meditative state which is so powerful in the exhibition, as something so simple and repetitive seems to become an almost cathartic process, which is too reciprocated in the experience of viewing the work.

The sense of process is strong throughout, as each mark is imbued with the artist’s stroke, unusually turning something so detailed into something seemingly tangible. Yet obviously this has been considered in the curation of the exhibit, as the low lighting emulates Khan’s own practise, as he’s known for working through the night only by the light of a battery power lamp — due to the unreliability of Pakistan’s electricity.

You may have seen glimpses of his work through the neon signs which recently adorned the walls of the Manchester Museum on Oxford Road, and at the Manchester Art Gallery on Princess Street. The glowing Urdu expression “khushamdeed” signifying a point on entry and acceptance – literally translating as “welcome”. This is Khan’s invitation to us – inviting us to come in and look closer.

Waqas Khan is exhibiting his solo show at the Manchester Art Gallery from the 30th of September 2017 – 25th February 2018.