Murderous Mob Inspires Pakistani Artist’s Red Met Rooftop

The rooftop of the Metropolitan Museum of Art is a bloody scene.

Pakistani artist Imran Qureshi splashed buckets of red acrylic paint on the almost 8,000-square-foot display-area floor.

It’s only as you get closer that you see the countless leaves beautifully drawn in red and white on the Pollock-like background.

Trained in traditional miniature painting, Qureshi offers details that are reminiscent of Mughal gardens yet echo the surrounding trees of Central Park.

He was selected as Deutsche Bank’s “Artist of the Year 2013,” for which the criteria include both aesthetic considerations and an engagement with social concerns. I spoke with Qureshi, 41, at the Met a day before the unveiling of his installation.

Rosboch: This work embodies contradictions, including violence and rebirth.

Qureshi: Yes, it looks like petals and like blood -- it attracts you and repels you at the same time. Nature represents life and emerges from the red, from the violence.

Rosboch: What inspired you?

Qureshi: The idea came from an incident in Pakistan when two young brothers were beaten to death by an angry mob in 2010. This was so terrible that we thought the nation was dead. But then a reaction came from the people.

They were out on the roads, demonstrating, on TV, on other media. And I saw a lot of hope coming out of that violent episode. I saw the country caring about other people, about their own lives.

Walking Work

Rosboch: Why do you let visitors walk on the work?

Qureshi: We’ve had so many bomb blasts and people suffering in Pakistan, and when these things happen, people are asked to stay away and officials investigate. And nobody really knows what the reason behind the violence was.

I made this work interactive so that people could investigate it themselves and get multiple meanings out of it.

Rosboch: What will happen at the end of the exhibition?

Qureshi: The work will be washed off, but I don’t have bad feelings about it.

It’s very special for the people around it because it won’t stay much longer, unlike a canvas that can be kept and seen forever.

Rosboch: Will you document it before it’s gone?

Miniature Training

Qureshi: Yes, I sometimes make miniatures of my own work.

I was trained as a miniature painter, so it’s how a small thing works on a really large scale and then goes back to the tradition.

Rosboch: What are the main characteristics of miniature painting?

Qureshi: We make our own brushes, which are extremely fine, with local organic materials. We process our own paints, make our own paper. Application and rendering are very different. Perspective is not the same. It’s very flat, two-dimensional.

Rosboch: You’ve lived your whole life in Pakistan. Do you ever think of moving away?

Qureshi: Never. I could not live anywhere else.

I travel, work and go back. I don’t even spend extra time abroad after I’ve finished working. And I’ve seen many places, but I feel really happy there.

Nawaz Sharif

Rosboch: Pakistan recently elected a new prime minister, Nawaz Sharif.

Qureshi: Yes, and I think this election was different and good on many levels. It was the first time in history that so many young people were involved because of Imran Khan.

He wasn’t in the majority at all but at least he woke up the youth and brought them into the process of democracy.

Secondly, it seems like Nawaz Sharif holds a majority. So if he wants to, he can really do good things for the country.

Rosboch: You’re very involved with young people yourself.

Qureshi: I teach full time and I’m curating a show of graduates from different institutions all over Pakistan.

It won’t be about big names but more about the work itself. And it will give an idea of how exciting the new art scene in Pakistan is.

Something you won’t find anywhere else is that in Pakistan all the practitioners, successful in their field, are seriously involved with teaching at one of the art institutions. It’s amazing.

“The Roof Garden Commission: Imran Qureshi” runs through Nov. 3 at 1000 Fifth Ave. Information: +1-212-535-7710;

(Lili Rosboch writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are her own. This interview was adapted from a longer conversation.)

Muse highlights include Laurie Muchnick on books, Katya Kazakina on art.

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