BANI ABIDI at Gallery TPW (56 Ossington), to November 24. 416-645-1066. Rating: NNNN
Gallery TPW, curator Pablo De Ocampo and the South Asian Visual Arts Collective bring us this intriguing show by Pakistani artist Bani Abidi.
We're all familiar with our own national stories, but Abidi lets us peek behind a national narrative most of us know little about.
Mohammad Bin Qasim was an eighth-century Arab warrior whose conquest of Sindh brought Islam to what is now Pakistan. Two commercial photos from a Karachi studio show young boys dressed as Qasim, while a third, The Boy Who Got Tired Of Posing, gives his name to the show. His costume lies abandoned, and all that remains in the frame is the child's shoe.
A video re-enacts a mysterious occurrence of slow motion in a televised drama about Qasim on a series of different TV sets.
We're used to filmmakers manipulating slo-mo to render a scene more majestic or glorious, but here we wonder if these mounted warriors may be reconsidering their mission, or if some political agenda is behind the broadcast interference.
In the third section, an impassive young man who believes he is Qasim appears on horseback in a series of photos taken before Pakistani landmarks.
Saving the Verfremdungseffekt for the end, Abidi casts the veracity of her whole enterprise into question by crudely collaging his image into the scenes without the usual Photoshop niceties.
A monitor that hangs like a toran over the entrance plays her wonderful video The Shan Pipe Band Learns The Star Spangled Banner. A split screen shows the band sitting on a rug rehearsing the anthem, Pakistani street scenes below and the members dressing in their Anglo-Asian regalia. The bagpipe may have come from Scotland, but it serves to impart a Subcontinental drone to the American tune.
Abidi leaves us feeling hopeful. Layers of national mythology, conquest and colonialism can't suppress our urges to play, to make music and art. Maybe a new generation of nations will get tired of posing.