Whitehot Magazine

Rasheed Araeen: A Global Modernist

Rasheed Araeen, AlkindiAlkindiAlkindiAlkindi, 2010-2013, emulsion on canvas, 60 x 80 inches. Image courtesy the artist and Aicon Art, New York.

Rasheed Araeen: In the Midst of Darkness

Aicon Art 

Extended through June 7, 2020


Rasheed Araeen is a global modernist for our times. Aicon Art New York’s online show, Rasheed Araeen: In the Midst of Darkness, tells us that his recent works take to new heights the legacies of a decades-long career. Embodying an extraordinary artistic achievement, they confirm the following: this Pakistani-British artist has reincarnated Minimalism, asserting its relevance to a world far more diverse and global than the world in which the America of the 1960s gave it initial life. At a time when interconnectedness between nations and regions is under fierce assault, his art also reminds us that but for past cross-cultural fertilizations, today’s civilization would not have been achieved. 

The present show is Aicon Art’s fourth solo exhibition of Araeen’s work. While he started making art in the mid-1960s, the mainstream art world took years to recognize his original and distinctive Minimalism. A breakthrough came in 2007, when Tate London bought and displayed his work. In 2014, the Jewish Museum gave him prominence in its Other Primary Structures show---a significant milestone, given the museum’s history-making role in Minimalism. (Its original Primary Structures exhibit introduced the general public to Minimalism in 1966.) That the second Primary Structures show was held at all was, in itself, a tribute to Araeen’s advocacy for global recognition of modernism’s non-Western dimension, as Holland Cotter suggested in a New York Times review of Aicon’s 2015 Araeen show. Most notably, MoMA, through its recent re-hang of its galleries, has begun showing Araeen alongside Donald Judd and Eva Hesse. While Araeen’s activism through writing and publishing began showing results in the 1980s and 1990s, recognition of his art’s global significance was late to arrive.  

Save for a few earlier pieces, the new Aicon show spotlights Araeen’s paintings from 2010 onwards. Far from being mellow and wistfully contemplative, this late work is vividly chromatic, dramatic at times, even theatrical. It is packed with allusion and meaning. To literally get the full picture, a virtual visit to the show should include entering its 3D version. This resource might make physically real to you the recession and projection embedded in his works. You might also respond more totally to their evocativeness and subtle creation of symbolic meaning. 

Rasheed’s AlkindiAlkindiAlkindiAlkindi (2010-2013) brings together the themes of his late work. Al-Kindi, a polymath whose writings and teaching spanned philosophy, mathematics, physics, astronomy, and other fields, flourished in ninth-century Baghdad, becoming recognized as ‘the Father of Arab Philosophy.’ Araeen’s painting is a paean to him (you see al-Kindi’s name set out in the picture’s middle through stylized application of the Kufic script), and it is one of a series of paintings through which Araeen pays tribute to Abbasid-era thought leaders. 

Rasheed Araeen, OPUS CRC3, 2018, acrylic on canvas, 63 x 63 inches. Image courtesy the artist and Aicon Art, New York.

Drawing ideas from ancient Greece, Persia and India, the immense scholarly enterprise the Abbasids patronized from the ninth to the fourteenth centuries created a cultural, scientific and artistic revolution that eventually seeded the European Renaissance. The very thing we call the scientific method was a critical part of this legacy, as was, too, the theory of perspective that revolutionized European art. Araeen’s late work evokes this immense legacy, the remembrance of which is important, in his opinion, for better inter-cultural understanding in a contemporary world rent by bitter fractures. 

For a fuller appreciation of Araeen’s achievement, see also his Opus CRC3 (2018) and From the Opus Series (7) (2019). Even more than AlkindiAlkindiAlkindiAlkindi, these gorgeously beautiful paintings remind us of the Abbasid era’s giant leap in geometrical mathematics and the abstraction it crystallized in Islamic art. Abstraction arose in art not in the twentieth century but in Baghdad a thousand two hundred years ago.  

Araeen is passionate about equality. Thus, speaking to Kaelen Wilson-Goldie in 2017, he said, “I’m trying to connect to this forgotten history, which is not the history of Islam alone but the history of humanity, how geometric thinking allows us to perceive the world in terms of equality for all.”  

Rasheed Araeen, From the OPUS series (7), 2019, acrylic on canvas, 70 x 104 x 75 inches. Image courtesy the artist and Aicon Art, New York.

Araeen does not hold back his views about the inequities that afflict our world today. But that does not make his art instrumental. Such is his creativity his diverse goals coalesce in his art achieving a result Susanne Langer would have appreciated: perceptions of beauty and intuitions of significance become a single experience. 

Minimalism’s founders desired their art to eschew external and mimetic references. But this was mostly an illusion. Published surveys of Minimalism have so far focused primarily on Western artists. They have yet to include Rasheed Araeen. Think also of Lee Ufan and other members of the Korean Dansaekhwa school. Think too of artists such as Nasreen Mohamedi, Zarina Hashmi, Prabhavati Meppayil, Nadia Kaabi-Linke. Araeen’s message as well as theirs is that meaning cannot be avoided. It’s time to broaden the discussion of Minimalism to make it more universal. WM


Siba Kumar Das

Siba Kumar Das is a former United Nations official who writes about art. He served the U.N. Development Program in New York and several developing countries. He now lives in the U.S., splitting his time between New York City and upstate New York. He has published articles on artists living in the Upper Delaware Valley, and is presently focusing on art more globally. Recent articles have appeared in dArt International, Arte Fuse, and Artdaily.com. 

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