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Ten Moments with Imran Qureshi

The prize-winning author and journalist Mohsin Hamid met with contemporary artist Imran Qureshi in Lahore in advance of his first London exhibition.

I drive, along a dug-up boulevard that is in the process of becoming a signal-free traffic corridor, over a bridge, to a military checkpost, where I am asked for identification, my vehicle examined for explosives and weapons, and then waved through, past homes, a shopping mall, more homes.

What do I want, I am asked from behind a heavily barred window, but when I mention Imran Qureshi’s name the neighbour becomes friendly and leads me to a door.

Imran and I are in a dim stairwell, dim because it is an overcast November day, or rather a foggy November day, or rather a smoggy November day, my phone’s weather application declaring the weather condition in Lahore to be ‘smoke’.

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A large room with a floor that looks like the floor of a slaughterhouse, splattered in blood, as though the artist is not an artist but rather an executioner, except that the blood is paint, and covers not the floor itself but a sheet of translucent plastic, drippings from other works, other executions as it were, the plastic there, he explains, to protect the floor, for the space is rented.

A smaller, second room, a room with a bloodless floor and a computer and a work-in-progress and the sound of music emerging from two little speakers, and there as tea arrives Imran tells me that he too once wrote fiction.

Stories for children in the Urdu papers, written when he is in the fourth grade, funny stories, but stories with a moral, on animals, on Eid, on his becoming a goat about to be slaughtered on Eid and then waking up from the fantasy just in time.

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An art teacher in Hyderabad encourages students towards abstraction, writing a single line from a poem and asking the children to interpret it visually, and Imran, only just arrived from the small town of Shahdadpur, becomes his favourite.

Not wanting to be an engineer, the career chosen out for him, and not wanting to study mathematics and science, when an uncle suggests he consider attending the National College of Arts, he is very happy.

Being taken to Lahore to see NCA by a father who is allowing him to choose for himself, a most unusual stance for a father to adopt, and it is summertime and very quiet on campus, in the late 1980s, and Benazir Bhutto has just come to power, and a highly political painting is hanging there on campus, and Imran has never been to a gallery before and never seen art like this, and feels from this first small glimpse that, yes, he wants to come.

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10 His fellow students have had much more exposure, and Imran thinks that if he could just pass this first year, that will be good enough…

Imran Qureshi – Where the Shadows are so Deep is on display in The Curve until 10 July 2016.

Hear Imran Qureshi discuss his process creating Where the Shadows are so Deep.

Originally published in the April 2016 Guide.

To read the full account, pick up a copy of Where the Shadows are so Deep (Barbican and Ridinghouse, 2016) which accompanies The Curve exhibition, available from the Barbican Shop.

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