On February 2, it was announced that Khadim Ali received the 2016 Western Sydney Arts Fellowship, which includes AUD 50,000 (USD 38,300) in funding for the recipient to undertake self-directed, professional development with a public outcome, such as an exhibition. The fellowship is offered by the state government of New South Wales, with success determined by the candidate’s demonstration of high artistic and cultural merit and contributions made to the art practice in Western Sydney.
Ali was born in 1978 in Quetta, Pakistan, into a family of Afghan refugees living in exile. His grandparents were forced to flee Afghanistan due to Taliban persecution of his relative’s ethnic group, the Hazaras. Ali pursued his artistic career through education; he was classically trained in mural painting and calligraphy at Iran’s Tehran University, then in miniature painting at the National College of Arts in Lahore, Pakistan. He completed an artist residency in Japan at the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum in 2006, and another at Arts Initiative Tokyo a year later, then moved to Sydney in 2009. In 2013, he completed his master’s degree in Fine Arts at the University of New South Wales, Sydney.
Ali’s practice is largely influenced by his ancestry; rich in traditional and modern motifs—from both Eastern and Western art history—his work deals with the loss of his own cultural heritage as well as the degradation of human values in our communities, while simultaneously exploring how meaning changes as words and images are perverted in the shift from Eastern to Western ideologies. He addresses contemporary political issues from a personal standpoint, criticizing the dehumanization of minority groups and racial, ethnic and religious radicalism, as seen in Untitled 1 (2011–12) of the “Rustam Series” (2011–12), which alludes to the persecution of the Hazara people in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The title of the series is also the name of the hero in an 11th-century Persian epic poem, recognized for his courage and strength. However, in this work, the artist substitutes this legendary figure with demons as a means of demonstrating the way in which the figure of Rustam has been usurped as justification for hostility and bloodshed in contemporary Afghanistan and Pakistan.
When asked about his plans for the prize money, Ali said that he intends to use it to further his practice: “I will push my practice toward further possibilities, mainly with tapestry. I am working with Afghan asylum seekers in Western Sydney who lost their childhood to weaving war rugs during the Russian invasion of Pakistan.”
Ali plans to show this body of work in Lahore and the Afghan capital, Kabul. He said, “I think it is very important to exhibit this body of work in Afghanistan to show the possibilities of local medium of rug weaving.”
In November, Ali was also awarded the prestigious 2016 Sidney Myer Creative Fellowship, worth a total of AUD 160,000 (USD 123,000), to be distributed over two years. Unlike the Western Syndey Arts Fellowship, the program is not outcome-driven but designed to give an artist time and space to further their practice. An artist cannot apply for the fellowship, but must be nominated by a contemporary in the field.
Ali’s name was submitted by Brisbane’s Milani Gallery. The artist admitted that he was not confident about receiving the fellowship. “I have only been [in Australia] six years, but it has given me new confidence to know that my art is under the spotlight.”
In 2011, Ali lost many of his creations when his parents’ house in Kabul was destroyed in a car bomb explosion. Last August, he was forced to close his studio in Kabul due to a lack of funds. Speaking on this matter, he said, “Now I have been able to re-establish the studio and continue to work there,” he said. “The funding has also allowed me to upgrade my studio here in Sydney.”
Ali’s work has been acquired by private collectors and major international institutions around the world, including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Victoria and Albert Museum and British Museum in London, Brisbane’s Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art and Islamabad’s Foreign Office.
Brittany Dale is an editorial intern at ArtAsiaPacific.
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