The art of satire

April 18, 2021

Diasporic Rhizome will remain on virtual display till May 15

“You can’t make up anything anymore. The world itself is a satire. All you’re doing is recording it.”   — Art Buchwald

Throughout history, satirists have reflected on the society that surrounds them. To be a satirist is to have a moral calling: to highlight the hypocrisies of a time. Works of satirical artists like Hogarth, Honore Daumier and Francico Goya have lived in history. The Georgian era marked the golden age for caricature in England.

Through their work, artists have been illuminating and ridiculing the absurdities and follies of human beings. Using exaggeration as a tool, they have addressed pressing problems affecting their societies, including subjects that are usually taboo.

The exhibition titled Diasporic Rhizome is a joint venture of satirical expression and clever mockery on display virtually. A project of 21 South Asian artists, it delves into topics like arrest of artists, journalist, writers and social workers; false accusations; women’s suffering; oppression; colonialism; killing of Muslims with the rise of Islamophobia; political unrest and racism in America that focuses exclusively on the voices of women of colour. The works are cryptic, surreal, disturbing and provocative.

Sofia Karim’s Tribune Bagh is a stark satire against injustice and inequality. She and some fellow artists, poets and thinkers had organised Turbine Bagh, a protest at the Turbine Hall of Tate Modern Museum, London, as a gesture of solidarity by the diaspora. Tribune Bagh is a reference to Shaheen Bagh, the women-led protest in New Delhi that was the epicentre of the resistance prior to Covid-19 lockdown. The global protest is designed in the form of “samosa packets to show solidarity with Shaheen Bagh protest in India. The work highlights the anti-Muslim citizenship laws in Delhi, human rights situation (across India and Bangladesh), imprisoned artists, fascism and authoritarianism. A packet titled Release Abdul Kalam was a satire against the arrest of the photographer who photographed the refugees of Bashan Char island. The packet shows a photograph taken by Kalam, himself.

In his collaborative project with Tariq Ali, Amin Rehman uses word art installation as his mode of expression. His work is a commentary on the effect of aggressive globalisation and decolonisation. The artist writes in his exhibition catalogue:

“The installation is deep-rooted in rhizomatic thoughts and diasporas’ identity that serves as the pictorial content and interests in the phraseology of aggressive globalisation, colonisation and decolonisation. The installation challenges us to decipher the text layers through a shared interactional technique, like the palimpsest technique and plays with the cultural meaning embedded in superimposed or layered meaning typography. The work is suggestive of graphic and informational strategies reused in American pop art in the 1960s.”

Rehman’s word art is a commentary on what appears to be truth on the surface, projected by modern media and lobbyists in global politics and social surroundings. The viewer is compelled to find the message hidden in the layers of his word installation. He provokes critical thinking and paints a picture through words.

In an email interview, Amin says: “The pandemic and the necessary safety protocols have heavily affected the art community as it has taken away a large component of being able to show work in physical spaces. On the other hand, online discussions are more accessible… On a personal note, seeing the lives of others going through hard time, rising rates of poverty and death is mentally hurting.”

Amin resides in Toronto. His upcoming exhibition The Bleeding Borders will be held at Art Gallery of Grande Prairie, Alberta, in the fall of 2021.

Mapping Memory by Saba Karim and Shaheen Ahmad is about solidarity amongst global artists. Both are hopeful that artists will work towards more sustainable online collaborations during the pandemic. Through their work, they are “understanding transnational movements, migrations and friendship of artists in the three regions of Bangladesh, Pakistan and the UK”.

Anamika Singh is an artist and designer based in New York. Her installation addresses the demolition of Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad. She writes in her catalogue: “As our landscapes are populated by military monuments, militarised urban infrastructure and networks of surveillance. How are our personal and shared histories folding themselves within dense entanglements of violent legacies? What grows in the voids left by methodical demolitions, site-less shrines and continually mutating and mediated memories?”

Asma Kazmi’s Building the City of Exiles refers to the incident when a construction crane fell down on pilgrims in Makkah. She says humans around the globe are living under the shadow of idyllic skyscrapers, amongst health crises and inequality.

“Uban space seems beholden to the aspirations of builders and planners who erect skyscrapers at alarming rates. Who and what is marginalised in this process? What is the toll on the environment?”

Nitin Mukul, born in Lawrence, Massachusetts, is based in Queens, New York City. Her installation titled Blue Lake, With Live Performance can be experienced as a durational event. He begins his work with layers of paints placed in sheets of ice, freezing each layer of acrylic and oil so that they accumulate layers of color and texture. Placing the frozen mass outdoors, he allows it to melt according to weather conditions, filming the process with a tight zoom.

Maryam Hina Hussain, born and raised in Karachi, now lives in London. She uses materials like textiles for her work. She enjoys using pigments to create the images.

Spandita Malik, a New York-based artist from India, criticises the current global socio-political state of affairs with an emphasis on women’s rights and gendered violence. Her Nari comprises embroidered photographic portraits made in collaboration with women artisans from India. Her work documents the sacrifices of women confined in the so-called “safe spaces” of their homes , working day and night to embroider the cloth.

Melissa Joseph’s Pocket Brass satirises the ‘pockets’ - metaphorically political spaces. Her work, a collection of animations and videos, focuses on her own experiences and imagination as a second generation Indian American. Pockets symbolise secrets, ownership, privacy and hidden sentiments. Once stolen, they lose value.

Mara Ahmad, a US-based Pakistani artist, is interested in dialogue through physical and psychological borders. Showcasing the film titled: Le Mot Juste [Part One], she focuses on the languages she has learned and the concreteness of the syntaxes. Being able to speak three languages, she enjoys connecting the borders.

Jaret Vadera’s Ascending to Outer Space to Find Another Race is influenced by Rorchtests, FMRI’s, info graphics kinetic science, science fiction, Buddhist philosophy and study of the impossible. It explores parallels between the internet and neural networks – search engines and memory. The viewer has to examine and experience the work in order to interactively manufacture the meaning. Diasporic Rhizome will remain on virtual display till May 15 at

The writer is an artist and educationist based in Lahore

The art of satire