Art is a ritual. Decked in your finest clothes, with all the time in the world, you walk into the solace of the Sistine Chapel. Walls are white, voices are silent, sentiments are sincere; the only thing blaring is the constellation of celestial artwork. At the Louvre, the Raft of the Medusa rises like the sun, blinding out everything in the background. The visitors walk around, their lips silent, eyes fixed and soul in a trance. At O Art Space, pristine walls comb in the sanctity associated with art.
But every now and then a rebellious sentiment pops up. Contrarian artists step out of the museum-tepee onto the roadside to dress art not as some shaman rite but as a street sore.
Hauling art out of its traditionally Apollonian setting into the Dionysian urban space, Ali Arshad has staged a pop-up art exhibition, titled The Millennial Trope, as part of his Roadside initiative. His intention is to displace access to and perception of art so that it is no longer exclusive to a certain niche audience but is in the public domain. He affirms, “The Roadside is really for everyone and for everyone’s work to be represented. It is set to start a discourse on art for all ages and communities.”
The first of its kind in Lahore, The Millennial Trope is a pop-up art exhibition that walks away from the protocols and perfection housed in galleries. Arshad, whose art has previously been displayed at a pop-up in Brooklyn, wants to reinstate a culture of public art. “It was simple for me: I had my work and I wanted to put it out there. In this geography, it felt necessary.”
Spitting art into a derelict parking lot skirted by a litter-strewn dumpster and a swarm of cobbler shops, The Millennial Trope radically de-contextualises it. Overhead, transmission lines hang like open arteries. Underneath, the ground is as uneven as a flaking skin. Chipped walls stagger in a line like yellow teeth. Studded onto this broken smile of a canvas sit squares of paint and performance fighting for attention. Ali Arshad’s piece, reminiscent of Georgio O’keeffe’s paintings, stands out in its exuberant play of pink. But the feminine and flowery essence of the work is overtaken by crisscrossing flies that seem to be more immersed in it than any human members of the audience.
Asked about his viewers, Arshad lists “university students buzzing in on their bikes, rickshaw drivers taking a quick glance, vendors popping in and out, office workers on their lunch breaks strolling around.” It is as if the intention is to catch the average person amidst the drudgery of everyday life, ambush them with a sophisticated piece of art and then let them go, no questions asked. In doing this, The Millennial Trope creates a sense of flux; the cacophony and the pungent smells leave no room for contemplation. With an audience not particularly eager to make time, with a context constantly distracting, and with an ethos not demanding of glorification what does art really mean here?
Evoking the spirit of Banksy’s Dismaland, The Millennial Trope ushers art out of the sacred gallery to the profane street. According to Arshad, this pop-up was an intentional re-creation of a Dismaland where every juxtaposition pokes at rigid societal paradigms, where pieces are festered with contrast and where everything is a looking-glass to otherness and its boundaries.
Dotted around the parking lot works of remarkable ingenuity and biting satire include a collection of digital collages by Plebs, the artist. In a neon mish mash of colours and images reeking with political underpinning, Pleb’s presents a “thoughtless debut of surreal digital art aimed at starting a dialogue and shunning labels.” Her art bellows, “art is plebian.” Nothing here is glass-cased because none of it is fragile; it is a vulgar, unabashed expose of our society.
More than anything, The Millennial trope shows that art is not divine; it is human and for humans. Other dichotomies knocking against the exposed brick wall include a play on abandonment and empty places. In a space careening with just too much, Izza Khan’s work showcases empty halls and desolate rooms. Talk about juxtaposition.
The writer is a student at Stanford University, currently doing research in experimental plasma physics at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. She can be reached at [email protected]