It is natural for humans to make every attempt to escape the not-so-fond memories of the past and move forward. However, no matter how hard we try, some of them continue to bother us. Perhaps this is where art comes in handy.
While most run from their history, artists embrace it. And in their work, you see a reflection of the entire society. Khadim Ali is no different.
The Pakistani artist, has recently been named among top 40 young artists in Asia Pacific by Apollo, one of the oldest and respected magazines on visual arts in the world, and depicts a century of migration, annihilation and massacre of the Hazara community through his work. “My grandfather was a singer of Shahnameh, the Firdausi epic. I used to hear him sing it. It’s only later that I realised how it related to our situation. The poem speaks about demons hiding in caves as they’re declared infidels and rat-eaters. The Hazara community was the same. We live in a society that doesn’t accept us,” Ali told The Express Tribune.
As a child, Ali would bring charcoals in his pockets when his mother used to send him to get rotis from the tandoor. “I would just draw on the walls. When my mother would wash my clothes, she would get really angry,” Ali recalled.
His ancestors escaped the Hazara massacre in Afghanistan in 1892 and moved to what was then called British India. Born in Quetta in 1978, Ali became interested in Afghan folklore during his childhood. He eventually visited Afghanistan and found traces of destruction, thanks to years of bloodshed.
“I was tormented by the destruction of two 6th century statues of Buddha in Bamyan by the Taliban in 2001. I visited Afghanistan in 2006 for an art project. I realised, just like the demons in Shahnameh, Hazaras had been pushed into caves of Bamyan,” shared Ali. “Hazaras are usually peace-loving people. I felt they sought refuge in those caves, in the calmness of Buddha. That’s why you will see a lot of demons hiding behind Buddha in my work.”
With demons and Buddhas in greys and browns, the artist explores his community’s history. “I think I paint those demons as a collective portraiture of the Hazaras and minorities in Pakistan.”
Speaking about his inspiration, Ali shed light on Indian and Persian miniature art. He also follows the works of internationally acclaimed Pakistani artists such as Imran Qureshi, Salima Hashmi and Anwar Saeed.
Ali went on to study mural painting and calligraphy in Tehran and earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in miniature painting from the National College of Arts in Lahore. With numerous fellowships, residencies and exhibitions under his belt, he earned the Distinguished Talent Visa for Australia in 2010.
Currently, Ali is working on a tapestry and calligraphic work, which will be exhibited in Brisbane and New Delhi by the end of the year.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 5th, 2016.