Faiza Butt – Paracosm

(Attenborough Arts Centre, Leicester, UK)

Mahwish Chishty – Friendly Fire

(Imperial War Museum, London, UK)

Two exhibitions in the UK by Pakistani artists playfully combine tradition with a strong contemporary graphic style. Faiza Butt and Mahwish Chishty both use elements of the visual language of their native country but twist it into interesting new shapes to make provocative art.

Butt’s show, ‘Paracosm’, uses a variety of media. Huge light boxes show Islamic style scripts reinvented as photoshopped collages, creating a disconcerting mix of old and new. On closer inspection it appears every letter has been painstakingly assembled from a variety of gold coins and trinkets

Elsewhere Butt continues the juxtaposition of ancient and modern by using exquisitely drawn borders in the style of the miniature paintings of the Subcontinent. These contain figures of myth such as dragons alongside trainers and hairdryers.

She also bravely tackles terrorism and homosexuality in a pop art style. There are kids with toy guns, discarded milk cartons and designer furniture all assembled with sensitivity.

Mahwish Chishty’s exhibition ‘Friendly Fire’ takes the style of Pakistani folk art, particularly the richly decorated trucks seen all over the country, as her starting point. She then applies this style to paintings and models of drones. The result is visually pleasing but the point is obvious – in the name of the war on terror Western instruments of destruction are being used indiscriminately on innocent victims in her country.


She uses gold decorative borders and vibrant colours, sometimes contrasted by black and white newsreel-style backgrounds. The strongest pieces for me were the simplest ones where the drones were presented front-on with no additional background – just simply beautiful images made from terrifying shapes.

It’s a small exhibition but it packs a strong punch. Pretty but haunting, and doubly surprising to see it within the Imperial War Museum.

There’s so much paranoia in Europe at the moment about everything Islamic so it’s good to see the UK embracing some of the issues with thoughtful exhibitions.

By Nigel Smith




Nigel Smith is the Director of Transformer. He’s currently based in the UK for family reasons but is still actively involved in Transformer’s projects.