NEW YORK – It’s the stuff dreams or nightmares are made of, reality warped to fulfill desire: an alien spaceship one day descends to Earth – much like the monolith in the Sci-Fi film ‘Arrival’ – and grants a human prayer every 24 hours.
A provocative and riveting exhibition of highly imaginative, spiritual-astral works by the Pakistani American artist Saks Afridi, ‘SpaceMosque’, in collaboration with architect Ferda Kolatan, runs through February 23, 2019, at the Aicon Gallery in New York.
The New York-based Afridi terms his new works ‘Sci-fi Sufism’. The exhibition is as much of a visual and visceral delight as an ignition of the mind, forcing one to think of the collision of unimagined happiness with perdition and unmitigated chaos.
This is not your life turning through winning the Lotto, or grandma’s story of Aladdin’s Lamp which grants three wishes. ‘SpaceMosque’ or ‘The Miraj Mission’, as Afridi has it, grants billions of prayers, each with its own individual aspirations, objectives.
Myriad questions arise as one goes through Afridi’s excellent works, apart from reveling in the ingenuity of the artworks itself: What’s my prayer? What’s your prayer? What is my neighbor’s prayer? Importantly, what would be that terrorist’s prayer who lives in the same city as you? Does God exist?
The premise of ‘SpaceMosque’ is that it serves as a memorial and exploration of a para-fictional phenomenon and time period that occurred on Earth in the near past. Due to the arrival of a strange vessel from outer space – which resembles a mosque – every human being on the planet was granted a prayer answered every 24 hours. It’s a spiritually conscious spaceship, with an energy station, and prayer gateway. Its divine algorithms and foresight technology determined the selection of prayers it chose to answer. Yet somehow this phenomenon has been erased from our memories.
Afridi investigates the idea of ‘spiritual machines’, bringing humanity closer to understanding itself. The works comprising the exhibition include painstakingly acquired found artifacts, multi-media documentation of various incidents surrounding the phenomenon, and photographs of the vessel’s many manifestations, in an effort to piece together the events that transpired during this period. The impact of this arrival led to both miracles as well as tragedies. Greed and morality were at constant war and prayer eventually became the de facto global currency, according to Afridi.
Notes for the exhibition says: ‘And then one day, the vessel vanished, along with any memory of its existence, except for a few remnants of stories and artifacts scattered around the globe. This is the first time that some of these artifacts and stories are being shared with the world. We do not know the reason for the vessel’s departure, but our findings reveal that global riots due to the commoditization of prayers may have led to it. Perhaps enough people grew tired of the chaos and prayed for it all to go away and be forgotten, or perhaps it was an overdue lesson for humanity. At the heart of the exhibition, however, stands a central question; If all your prayers were answered, would it change the world, or just yours?’
According to Afridi, the project has had countless early influences, ranging from Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End, Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Lost Human Genetic Archive, and the Islamic mythological story of Isra and Mi’raj – The Night Journey. Partially inspired by AfroFuturism, he sees this para-fictional approach to Islamic folklore and mythology as a contemporary sister movement he calls ‘Subcontinental Futurism’.
“In today’s political climate, I believe it’s very important for people, especially Americans, to experience something associated with the Islamic world that is not connected to extremism and terrorism. Sadly, the religion of Islam is secretly feared in the hearts of many, and I want to show that Islamic folklore and mythology can also have a contemporary and imaginative voice,” said Afridi, who has a background in advertising, as a Creative Director on brands such as Mercedes-Benz and MTV, adding, “Let’s expand old perceptions. This project uses science fiction and Islamic mysticism to create a new thought-provoking experience aiming to promote cultural understanding and challenge stigmas in an engaging and current way.”
SEEDS OF SILENCE
Along with Afridi’s exhibition, Aicon is also showcasing the Mumbai-based Indian artist Sujith S. N.’s works ‘Seeds of Silence’, through February 23, 2019.
The works are the artist’s reactions to the urban landscape that he encounters every day in life in Mumbai. His visual language brings together a world that is poetic, narrative, abstract and evocative all at the same time, as he paints vast landscapes flushed with light and shadows.
Sujith’s large format works present a plethora of landscapes, forests, and cities, almost magical in its imagining, hinting at the discomfort with the world that he inhabits. His landscapes are sometimes inhabited by a select few figures and some haunting architecture, both of which are devices for him to capture a state of mind rather than to creative a narrative.
KAVERI RAINA AT GRACIE MANSION
Indian American artist Kaveri Raina is among the 44 women artists across 10 decades whose works are being exhibited at the Gracie Mansion in New York.
First Lady Chirlane McCray and the Gracie Mansion Conservancy opened this week the unprecedented art exhibition that brings together more than 60 works by the 44 women artists. The exhibition, on display throughout 2019, is the largest ever art exhibition at Gracie Mansion.
‘She Persists: A Century of Women Artists in New York City’ coincides with the centennial year of women’s suffrage and is the first of its kind in Gracie Mansion.
Raina was born and brought up in New Delhi, India. She moved with her family to Columbus, Ohio in 2000. In May 2016, she graduated with her MFA in Painting and Drawing from The School of the Art Institute in Chicago. She is the recipient of the James Nelson Raymond Fellowship.
(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)