Nationhood, citizenship, and identity are recent constructs that although fuelled a sense of solidarity
among smaller groups, adversely created fractures between various lands and its populace. Self-interest, power, security, and an implanted sense of otherization motivated the erection of barriers
and borders that not only disrupted interaction but also impeded human migrations and transnationalmovements that have otherwise existed and seamlessly operated for centuries.
Saba Qizilbash’s hybrid identity and several geographical displacements propelled her to not only question the abstract concept of home, but also inspect how human movement is policed, altered, and restricted. Her recent body of work is an inquiry into the human migrations and the geopoliticsacross the South Asian landscapes. The large-scale photographic drawings are highly detailed. Theartist’s use of graphite to reconstruct the landscapes is an autopsy to understand and dissect thepolitics of the familiar terrain and the memory its vestiges embody.
The locations and landmarks rendered in Qizilbash’s drawings are primarily those that have beendrastically affected by the demarcation lines. These landmarks have undergone either a change ofname, faith, or purpose. The artist retells the stories of separation and affliction that these sites haveeither experienced or witnessed and now withstand to share.
Qizilbash’s drawings hold the potency to bend time. The disoriented viewer is left conflicted andcannot adjudicate whether the scenes are from a distant bygone or an apocalyptic, post-humanfuture. The visuals come across as both detailed documentation as well as a whimsical imagination.They look familiar and seemingly capture reality, but they also allude to a mutated, otherworldlyparadigm. By deliberately conglomerating a myriad of ‘what ifs’ she weaves the past to the future andcoalesces both fact and fiction to create an illusory déjà vu experience.
Qizilbash is also interested in regions around the border – the lines of control. In her view, these noman’s lands have no nationality, no faith, and no ownership. A feeling of abandonment emanatesfrom these sites – a series of ‘has/had been’. This post-humanistic topography signifies a future inwhich bodies are enhanced, replaced, or surpassed. An undeniable sense of privation is imbued in thetragedies which these sites recollect.
Migration and movement are intrinsic to South Asian identities. Qizilbash retraces historic migratoryand trade routes but erases barriers and any human presence or protocols to facilitate an unhinderedmovement of human traffic. The cacophony from the melded sites reverberates a sense of urgencyand discourages any rest breaks. These are neither destinations to arrive at nor the points of departure.
Using drawing as investigative research, Saba Qizilbash reopens unresolved accounts and excavates living archives and material memory to reminisce the stories of crossing borders. She chronicles theundying consequences of the politics of cultural policy, nationalism, and human geography. The artistalso postulates the several possible futures of the ever-changing dynamics of migration, mobility, andcitizenship against a global backdrop where personhood has become an increasingly fluid and complex concept.
Shah Numair Ahmed Abbasi is a multidisciplinary artist and writer based in Karachi.