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Anatomy of a disappearance

In the work of Aroosa Rana, one sees the evidence of two inseparable phenomena that have become the identity of our age: International Terrorism and Information Technology

Anatomy of a disappearance

On the site of a bomb blast, there is a scene of fleeing. Birds, animals, and human beings leave the place of danger, death and destruction. A busy bazaar swarming with buyers, a park packed with visitors, a shopping mall crowded with customers, a school stuffed with students, a mosque filled with the faithful is emptied as soon as sounds of explosions reverberate. A deserted place is a haunting scenario, because it anticipates imminent annihilation.

These abandoned – and haunting venues haunt Aroosa Rana. She hunts for places, once locations of terrorist attacks. Spaces which were evacuated for a brief period of time, before resuming their normality. Normality? Can a place that witnessed deaths of innocent citizens return to a state of normality; in spite of our short-lived memory and impending amnesia. In her 9-channel video installation. Future Archive, Post 27.03.2016, (from her solo exhibition, part of ‘Cross-pollination Series’ in Mississauga – August 3 to13, 2018) ordinary images of a public park have an uncanny character. On the dirt path, near the pond, under the swings, inside living quarters, there are no signs of life. No humans, animals or birds. All gone. Fled, vanished. Something not possible in a bustling and thriving park of a hugely populated metropolis.Picture24

Only we discover the views are of a park in Lahore where a large number of visitors (mainly Christians celebrating Easter) were targeted on a Sunday afternoon in 2016. In her art, Rana recreates that situation, by eliminating every element of breathing life, in order to recall and reaffirm the injustices which a society has experienced, but has forgotten – conveniently. Rana’s imagery brings back a point in our collective memory when/where pleasure turned into pain. Small delights turned into unsurmountable grief.  By removing humans and other living beings, Rana lets us enter the scene as the first person to step into an area of public massacre – but without the fragments of flesh, puddles of blood, remains of clothes and scattered shoes. Her subtlety of pictorial depiction makes her work more meaningful and complex – or if one can dare to describe it as such, poetic.

Only because an intelligent artist not only sees the surface but searches through it. The creative individual can recognize the fabric of society and layers of systems responsible for most catastrophes. Often these calamities are caused due to that invisible – and invincible chess-like game between world powers, to which other nations, territories and ordinary people are merely numbers to be scored. Usually the fate of many millions is settled on the negotiation table between two leaders from dominant countries during a high-level summit.

We discover the views are of a park in Lahore where a large number of visitors, mainly Christians celebrating Easter, were targeted on a Sunday afternoon in 2016.

Aroosa Rana examines the layers of deception inherent in these meetings and negotiations. Arranged and enforced through physical settings of a room, which convey a message of peace, and pleasantry. One may alter faces, dresses and nationalities of these statesmen, but there is hardly a difference between them, even those warring against each other. Rana, using a formal device, dissects this phenomenon; her digital prints Ephemeral Participant can be read as a critique of the edifice of power. Series of digital prints in which everything is diffused except the bouquet of flowers in different variations. Heads of states, ministers, military guards; lavish interiors, and elaborate furnishings, are all blurred in a blinding haze.

Only flowers are visible, a natural entity that never ‘participated’ in these exchanges, but through a convention is considered essential for these sessions. Rana invokes questions of reality and its fabrication. In an atmosphere of diplomatic dialogue, perhaps only flowers are true, whereas everything else is deception. In her chosen mode of constructing images, Rana prefers a cold, detached, neutral thus objective tone, in which she presents her scenario as if lifted from some social media or electronic media source. Almost factual, yet intelligently composed and convincingly created.

This difference and distance between bluff and belief – probably the main concern of Aroosa Rana – is addressed in her other works too. Suspended Belief deals with the dichotomy of the actual and virtual. A human being, entranced and enchanted with virtual reality, enters and exists in it and enjoys that state. It starts with basics: a boy watching a city street out of his window, two women glued to a TV screen, buildings on a physical ground which appears like a computer page. Mapping the altered reality of our existence – perplexed in the web of moving and still pictures. Every day, we are exposed to a range of rotating visuals, in films, TV programmes and computer animations, which replicate reality – to the extent of replacing it. A situation that has made human presence extraneous – if not redundant.

In that context, the works of Aroosa Rana, shown at a public place, a square in Canada, converge on a common concern. The relation of human beings with objects. Who will survive? Us or our computers? We or our bouquets? Recreational places or citizens? Regardless of whether they are physical or digital, Rana rewrites ‘Future Archive’ in which human beings may disappear (or becomes defunct) in contrast to man-made items. Her work is a form of documenting ideas and practices of our epoch, because for her “Archive is not past anymore, present doesn’t exist, and we are inside the future”. So if a site after the terrorist attack is devoid of human presence; a political meeting ends with everyone disappearing except the flower arrangement; and mankind prefers to converse with its godets more than with its species, it means that I.T. is reaching a post -human possibility, in which human beings may not interact with each other, physically.

That IT includes both of its versions: ‘Information Technology’, and ‘International Terrorism’; and in the work of Aroosa Rana, one sees the presence and evidence of these two inseparable phenomena that have become the identity of our age, no matter if we experience it as a blast during the recent elections in Quetta, or a virtual world created for our consumption, because both are the two sides of the same coin – sorry, the currency, rather the credit card!

Quddus Mirza

Quddus Mirza
The author is an art critic based in Lahore

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