New exhibit finds art in unusual places

Marbled plastic, strange fluorescent colors, irregular forms: Large-format photographs on display in the John Hartell Gallery scale images of tiny plastic toys up 30 times in an exploration of what artists Iftikhar Dadi and Elizabeth Dadi call “tilism.” The word, they explain, means “an inanimate object transformed into its own world.”

The “Tilism” exhibition runs through Sept. 26 in the gallery in Sibley Dome; Iftikhar Dadi gave an artists’ talk, followed by a reception, on Thursday, Sept. 6. The exhibition and events are open to the public.

The toys in the photographs are machine-molded but appear to be handmade, blurring the line between craft objects and industrially manufactured commodities. Created in small workshops in Karachi, they are made from inexpensive recycled plastic granules to which new colors have been added.

Iftikhar Dadi grew up in Karachi, Pakistan, where there were historical museums, private art collections and galleries, but no dedicated modern art museum. “But there were lots of things to see that weren’t seen as art,” he said. “It’s important to not just look at the formal art scene – when examining culture in places like South Asia and the global south, you have to think more capaciously and broadly about the aesthetics of everyday life.”

The art in their exhibit looks at the largely invisible processes of informal labor, production and consumption in the “global south.” “This is a realm of superexploitation, but also one of immense productive capacities, in which branding and intellectual property regimes are constantly challenged by those who seek to fashion a world from affordable materials and designs they find at hand or create anew,” they write in the exhibit description.

Iftikhar Dadi is an associate professor in the Department of History of Art, director of the South Asia Program and co-director of the Institute for Comparative Modernities. Elizabeth Dadi is a graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute.

The artists have worked collaboratively for 20 years. They describe their art as investigating “popular media’s construction of memory, borders and identity in contemporary globalization, the productive capacities of urban informalities and the mass culture of postindustrial societies.”

Their work has been widely exhibited internationally, including at the 24th Bienal de São Paulo, Brazil (1998); the Third Asia-Pacific Triennial, Brisbane, Australia (1999); Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Moderna Museet Stockholm (2005); Whitechapel Gallery, London (2010); Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Ithaca (2012); Jhaveri Contemporary, Mumbai (2015); Dhaka Art Summit (2016); Office of Contemporary Art Norway, Oslo (2016) and the Lahore Biennale (2018).

This story also appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.

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