On the cover: Opus Hax2 by Rasheed Araeen
Large canvases from the Opus series greet visitors to Rasheed Araeen’s studio, incongruously located above a discount furniture store in an unfashionable part of north-west London. Belonging to the same series as this issue of Delayed Gratification’s cover art, the bold geometric works deliver bursts of vibrant colour to the otherwise drab whitewashed walls. At the back of the space, Rasheed Araeen shows us some highlights from a retrospective publication covering over 60 years of his work. But when asked for reflections on his long career he issues a clarification.
“No, I never had a career,” the Karachi-born artist says. “I never earned a living from my art until it was exhibited in Sharjah in the UAE five years ago. That’s when I started this studio. Until then the international community didn’t know my work. I had no money. I was ignored. No gallery would show me. I was a pioneer of minimalism but they wouldn’t show me.”
Araeen has belatedly been recognised as one of the foremost exponents of minimalist sculpture in Britain. In the mid-1960s, shortly after he left an engineering job in his native Pakistan to seek a new life as an artist in London, he created a series of innovative abstract sculptures but struggled to get them displayed in galleries. He blames his ostracism on pervasive institutional racism, which, he says, is still “very much embedded and enshrined within the British art institutions”. Their attitude at the time, he says, was “How can a Pakistani artist make this historic contribution to art?”
Radical politics have always been present in Araeen’s work – for several years he edited Third Text, a journal dedicated to promoting non-Western cultural narratives. Many of his works from the 1970s and 1980s use provocative images to rail against what he viewed as the art world’s Eurocentric bias.
The large-scale Opus paintings, made by assistants using Araeen’s sketches, which are kept in a pile on a cluttered desk by the window, may not at first glance seem political. “But they are implicitly political,” insists Araeen, whose movement was impacted
by a stroke a few years ago. “We don’t have a theory of art that can connect Islamic traditions with modernism, which is a problem of the whole discourse, of art history and theory. These paintings reference the traditions of Islamic art so when critics and historians look at my work they are forced to abandon the idea of Eurocentrism in order to understand it.”
For his latest work, Araeen has done something quite different – he has opened a restaurant. “I had this idea of connecting art with the creativity of everyday life, and in 1968 Zero to Infinity, which will be exhibited at the Tate Modern later this year, involved people changing the arrangement of my work so there is infinite variation,” he says. “Everyday life includes people gathering, eating, drinking etc, so Shamiyaana is a piece where people become part of the artwork just by having a drink or some food. Like Zero to Infinity it is an ongoing, open-ended art project.”
Araeen’s restaurant Shamiyaana is located at 8 Cazenove Rd, London N16 6BD, shamiyaana.com
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