European Nomadic manifesta biennale 2018


The following work is my flag-artwork  displayed in the diasporic and participatory flag installation by Artist Filippo Minelli, at the European Nomadic Manifesta Biennale, Palermo, Italy, 2018.  July 2018 – Nov 2018.

One artist was nominated and invited from each country, I being from Pakistan.  A marriage between two places around the world had to come together through art, a word and a site.

  • Art in the form of  Flag – with a word
  • a site centred performance-video piece holding the flag

was developed and contributed by each artist – to each their own narrative. The project platform was genius in terms of the complex geographical, sociological, cultural and political dichotomy one ‘flag’ could deliver.

My contribution as an artist from lahore, Pakistan has been shared here:

(the performance video has not been shared here)


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 photo courtesy installation images: filippo minelli 

Idea background

Around last year a search of mine brought me to Ganga Ram street behind the Mall Road Lahore looking for the ‘pre Indo-Pak partition’ home of legendary artist Amrita Sher Gil who chose Lahore as her final abode. I remember going to the same street somewhere in 2005 as a third year BFA undergraduate student, a best friend who was in the architecture department took me there as he had discovered the serene street , capsuled in its own time and grandeur,  while wandering in Lahore. A few articles and blogs mentioned that Amrita Sher Gil lived in the same street. I had a vague memory of going there but in that time I was not aware that it was the artists abode.  I planned a visit to the street with the same friend, around last Autumn (oct 2017) , upon going there after all this time we again felt absorbed by that aura of serenity, it rests unaffected behind the madness and hustle bustle of the historic mall road. These homes were made during the British Raj, balconies/verandas invite in their openness …there are no boundary walls , six homes on one side and six on the other. Through a few blogs and articles that have been written on it there are comments by people who are from families who lived there during that time, in colonial India, before Indo-Pak partition. When my friend Zain and I reached the street we were not sure which house it was, naturally we were drawn to the corner house on right side , I saw that it was ‘number 23’ and I thought that was too much of a coincidence, because I am born on the 23rd, Amrita Sher Gil living in house number 23 would be a sweet coincidence and yes, it was.

A very kind and hospitable family lives there, they mentioned that six to seven years back it was completely abandoned. These beautiful homes are property of the state and generally allotted to families of government officers. We spent a part of day with the family, had tea with them, saw the space where Sher Gil painted, saw the view from her studio window… the spaces in the home have been changed to an extent, the wall colors… and wallpapers …what are pleasing to the resident family…

As it has been mentioned in the few articles that have been written, the street lives Amrita Sher Gill, so does Lahore, it was her home, is her home, her ashes were cremated near the river ravi in Lahore yet there is no one to remember it.

Her masterpiece ‘ the veena player’ hangs in the Lahore museum yet this ‘tug of war’ of her hungarian/sikh//Indian, Pakistani identity is probably why no effort has been made to retain or share that memory. Sher Gil chose Lahore as her home and final abode; it was a time when writers, artists, poets all resided in the same vicinity.


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Idea for Manifesta project:

The word I’ve chosen is ‘Amrita’, after the name of late legendary artist Amrita Sher Gil (1913-1941) . She lived in Lahore before her death and made many paintings in her home at Ganga Ram street Lahore, which withholds 12 colonial homes, six on each side of a closed, cozy and sublime street.  Amrita Sher Gil’s abode in Lahore does not have any representation of the heritage and value attached to it. A family resides in the first floor and the ground floor is a regular legal office.

Her mother was Hungarian, her father Sikh, Indian; she lived in Lahore (India then, Pakistan since 1947) so India and Pakistan both own her. Amrita owned Lahore but Lahore is a bit unfair by having no memory of her outside her home. Another reason for choosing the word Amrita is that it means ‘immortality’ yet it is a paradox because it’s a Sanskrit word and name which is not heard or read in the cultural fabric now in Lahore, Pakistan.  I chose to write the word in Urdu on the flag as Urdu is the national language (mother tongue) of Pakistan. The location/place I chose for the performance is her home, house no 23 Ganga Ram street Lahore. The word Amrita in this context links to India, France and Hungary but I will chose France as the other chosen place on the planet as her training there made her the modernist legend, artist and bridge between the east and west. Her training in Grand Chaumiere and later at Ecole des Beaux in Paris and influences and learning from  masterpieces of Western art by Paul Cezanne, Gauguin, Modigliani and Vincent Van Gogh gave birth to a visual vocabulary which was truly her own, truly Amrita.

I’ve taken fabric as the core language of my medium for the flag –

Khes: the khes is a traditional Pakistani textile used in bedding, as a sheet or a quilt. The particular piece of khes I used for my flag belonged to my grandmother; it is a Majnu khes with checked design woven in double-cloth technique. A beautiful geometric pattern is weaved through it. The khes has nostalgic, original and aesthetic values attached to it. It is hand loomed. When a girl is wedded in the subcontinent, it is a precious gift in the dowry. So I had to dedicate it to Amrita.

Golden fabric: I chose to write AMRITA in Urdu in GOLDEN FABRIC as it means immortality, forever alive.

Green net: I chose the green fabric because green is the color of Pakistan, of purity and honor and the net worked as a surface between the khes and the ‘word in gold’. The net also worked like a transparency, a glass ceiling in the center like that of École des Beaux-Arts.

The two elephants: The two elephants come from Sher Gils’s painting ‘the two elephants’. They made their way in the flag symbolic to the power, enigma, wonderment and struggle that Sher Gil’s life was all about. I painted them on red cotton.

The khes, golds, elephants, net, word, home, Amrita, bring together two worlds, one of Sher Gil’s art, her training in Paris and her life in Lahore…

Published by Sehr Jalil

visual artist - writer

2 thoughts on “European Nomadic manifesta biennale 2018

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