House in a Garden I Shezad Dawood
Jhaveri Contemporary is proud to present ‘House in a Garden’, a solo exhibition by Shezad Dawood, his first in India since 2010. The exhibition of paintings and a single Virtual Reality (VR) experience explores the artist’s ongoing engagement with modernist architecture in South Asia.
Dawood’s engagement with architecture began with ‘Cities of the Future’ (2010) exploring the relationship between Corbusier and Tantra in the development of the planned city of Chandigarh. A second project, ‘Anarchitecture’ (2016), investigates Antonin and Noémi Raymond’s work in Pondicherry.
For his first exhibition at Jhaveri Contemporary, Dawood presents elements from two ambitious bodies of work: ‘Encroachments’ (2018-2019), where he explores the history of Richard Neutra’s proposed US Embassy building in Karachi, and ‘University of NonDualism’ (2019-2020), in which he addresses Muzharul Islam’s contributions to the architectural landscape of Bangladesh. Encroachments explores specific fault lines between the modern, the Non-Aligned Movement and the Cold War across South Asia after 1947. ‘University of NonDualism’ engages the philosophy of advaita, or non-binary thinking, to explore how Islam embodies this in his architecture and writings by neither opposing the modern to the vernacular, nor the rural to the urban, but instead looking for ways to integrate these modes within his buildings.
‘Encroachments’ is anchored in an immersive Virtual Reality experience. The central motif of the VR experience is the proposed building for the US Embassy in Karachi, which Dawood spent years extensively researching. Designed by Austrian-American modernist architect Richard Neutra in 1959, the building now exists in a state of limbo. It was completed after Pakistan moved its capital to Islamabad and then required constant upgrades to meet evolving US diplomatic security standards until it was sold by the US State Department in 2014. On the VR journey to, and onward from, the ‘embassy’, viewers pass through various parallel environments such as Ferozsons in Lahore, a renowned colonial-era bookshop established in 1894; a secret passage into the Reagan years; and a videogame arcade replete with anti-Soviet propaganda. Each stylistically distinct scene recalls a gaming genre and is punctuated by a different sound track from the late-1960s Pakistani niche music scene of mixed Muslim and Christian musicians, who drew inspiration from classical Indian ragas and the layered sound pioneered by Phil Spector and Brian Wilson.
Accompanying this VR element are two collaged paintings – ‘Neutral Density’ and ‘Defender II’ – and a series of small paintings in oil and acrylic (2021). ‘Neutral Density’ (2018) revisits the Embassy building – Neutra’s only building in South Asia and part of the US Embassy building programme initiated in the aftermath of the Second World War as a way to exert US ‘soft power’. ‘Defender II’ (2018) refers to the use of science fiction films in anti-Soviet propaganda in the 1950s. The collaged paintings use a mixture of denim (or ‘blue jeans’, the icon of US victory in the Cold war) and other fabrics produced in Pakistan as their surface which reflect Dawood’s ongoing exploration of the social mirror that textiles provide. The small ‘book paintings’ mimic the types of Urdu language pulp fiction stocked in Ferozsons or found in book markets across the city, and are chosen by Dawood for their exciting graphic quality.
‘University of NonDualism’ (2019-2020) evolved through a series of conversations between Dawood, curator Diana Campbell Betancourt, and later Sean Anderson (then Associate Curator, Department of Architecture and Design, Museum of Modern Art, New York) and Nurur Rahman Khan (Muzharul Islam Archives), who shared a fascination with modernism in Bangladesh. Commissioned by Frieze LIVE and Dhaka Art Summit, the first iteration of this multi-media project was realized as a stage set for a performance presented at Frieze Art Fair, London, in 2019, curated by Betancourt.
‘University of NonDualism’ takes as its starting point the work of Muzharul Islam (1923-2012). Islam was a modernist architect, urban planner, educator, and activist from Bangladesh. Considered the Grand Master of regional modernism in South Asia, Islam’s style and influence dominated Bangladesh’s architectural scene in the 1960s and 70s. Islam was instrumental in bringing major US architects such as Louis Kahn, Richard Neutra, Stanley Tigerman, Paul Rudolph, and Robert Boughey to work in Dhaka. Dawood’s collages such as ‘House in the Garden II’ (2019) and ‘NAB I’ (2019), draw upon the startlingly futuristic geometry of Islam’s drawings and on the National Assembly Building in Dhaka on which he collaborated with Louis Kahn.
A series of suspended works – acrylic on vintage textiles – occupy the main space in the gallery and represent different buildings from Islam’s Chittagong University. The negative spaces between the suspended works allow for the audience to move through and animate the installation. This iteration of ‘University of NonDualism’ was first presented at the Dhaka Art Summit in 2020, in ‘On Muzharul Islam: Surfacing Intention’, a group exhibition of 17 artists and collaboratives responding to the built and unbuilt legacy of Islam.