Of indictment of our times and pointlessness of human existence


KARACHI – The turning point in David Alesworth’s artistic career was his relocation to Pakistan from England in 1987. Having previously studied at the Wimbledon School of Art in the tradition of late Constructivism, Alesworth then won the prestigious Picker Fellowship at Kingston University and subsequently took up a teaching assignment at Glasgow School of Art.
His subsequent encounter with Pakistani culture in the early 80s opened up his practice to a range of new materials and an entirely new aesthetic sense based on the decorative flourishes of the urban bazaars.
His central themes of environmental degradation and nuclear proliferation informed such whimsical yet lyrical works as ‘Two Bombs Kiss’, and resonate throughout a career that keeps stylistically reinventing itself. Working with truck artists in the mid to late 90s, Alesworth was involved in producing a number of highly acclaimed installations, conceived in collaboration with Durriya Kazi.
These include ‘Heart Mahal’, ‘Very Sweet Medina’ and ‘Arz-e-Mauood’, which generated substantial interest at local and international showings, and influenced an entire generation of artists to focus their attention on the cultural politics and aesthetics of cinema hoardings, truck art, bazaar artefacts and commercial sign paintings. Alesworth has consistently investigated the notion of craft, wilfully confronting Modernist ideals, such as truth to materials, with the fluid and plural vision of the marketplace. He deliberately allows decorative and excessive impulses to infiltrate his practice, only to temper them with a highly refined formal sensibility.
When collaborating with commercial artists, he also employs the conceptual strategy of relinquishing control of the working process to teams of artisans who interpret his imagery and ideas in unpredictable ways.
His large installations also contain interactive elements, responding to audience response through questionnaires, voice recordings and onsite photography. Simultaneously, Alesworth has explored the graphic possibilities of chamak patti with its anarchic subversion of logos, icons and brands, which converge on the shiny surfaces to force new and unexpected meanings and relations to emerge.
Alesworth’s missiles are constructed in the manner of zinc-plated sheet steel utensils, such as funnels, jugs, kulfi moulds and milk churns, ironically positioning themselves between the domestic environment and the forces that threaten to annihilate individuals and families in the name of the nation. Similarly, metal teddy bears covered in rivets challenge our notions of comfort and safety by obliquely referring to anti-personnel devices disguised as toys. But if Alesworth’s work is an indictment of our times and the pointlessness of human existence under the shadow of nuclear weapons, it is also a celebration of the universal urge to survive, create and embellish.
Works like the satellite dish and the stencil-cut aluminium trays speak not only of the information assault on underdeveloped societies like ours, but of our ability to assimilate, localise and reposition at the most basic level. This fluidity paired with Alesworth’s distinctively macabre humour often evokes a sense of discomfort and unease as we face an art that refuses to be co-opted by the aesthetic demands of the local elite.
Photos courtesy VASL Art