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b. 1971, Pakistan

Bani Abidi Biography

Bani Abidi was born in Karachi, Pakistan, in 1971. She studied painting and printmaking, earning a BFA from the National College of Arts, Lahore, Pakistan, in 1994. She later attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, earning an MFA in 1999. She completed residencies with the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Maine (2000), Fukuoka Art Exchange Program, Japan (2005), and DAAD Artists-in-Berlin Program (2011–12). Her early engagement with video, beginning at the Art Institute, led to the incorporation of performance and photography into her work. These mediums have provided Abidi with potent, sometimes subversive means to address problems of nationalism—specifically those surrounding the Indian-Pakistani conflict and the violent legacy of the 1947 partition dividing the two countries—and their uneven representation in the mass media. She is particularly interested in how these issues affect everyday life and individual experience.

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One of Abidi’s earliest videos, Mangoes (1999), reveals her barbed sense of humor. Two women—one Indian, one Pakistani, both played by the artist—eat mangoes and reminisce about their childhoods. Soon, however, their amiable chatter escalates into competitive boasting about the fruit grown in their respective homelands, which they reference from memory as expatriates. The artist uses a similar tactic in the two-channel video The News (2001). Here, a Pakistani and an Indian newscaster, again both performed by Abidi, issue divergent reports of the same event, based on a familiar joke. In addition to video, Abidi also works with photography, digital imaging, and installation. For Karachi—Series 1 (2009), she photographed non-Muslim Pakistanis in the street at dusk during the holy month of Ramadan, when the metropolis is quiet as Muslims sit down to break their fast. Abidi renders visible the Hindu and Christian minorities, which together constitute less than five per cent of the population, acknowledging that the city is their home too by inviting them to carry out mundane domestic activities—reading a newspaper, ironing, arranging flowers—in public space. These are ambivalent portraits, each labeled with the subject’s name, time, and date, as if they were documents of surveillance. The figures are shot from behind at a wide angle, the light of the setting sun heightening the oddity of their interpolation into the streetscape—as does the images’ lightbox presentation. But while politics and cultural critique pervade Abidi’s oeuvre, aesthetics remain her primary concern; these works may act as catalysts, but the responsibility for real change ultimately resides with the viewer.

Solo exhibitions of Abidi’s work have been presented at V. M. Art Gallery, Karachi (2006 and 2010); Oberwelt, Stuttgart (2006); Gallery TPW, Toronto (2007); Gallery SKE, Bangalore (2008); Green Cardamom, London (2008 and 2010); Project 88, Mumbai (2010); Baltic Center for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, United Kingdom (2011); and Experimenter, Kolkata (2012–13). Important group exhibitions include: Fukuoka Asian Art Triennial (2005); Thermocline of Art: New Asian Waves, ZKM Center for Art and Media, Karlsruhe (2007); Annual Report: A Year in Exhibitions, Gwangju Biennial, South Korea (2008); Hanging Fire: Contemporary Art from Pakistan, Asia Society, New York (2009); The Spectacle of the Everyday, Lyon Biennial, France (2009); Where Three Dreams Cross: 150 Years of Photography from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, and Fotomuseum Winterthur, Switzerland (2010); The Global Contemporary: Art Worlds After 1989, ZKM Center for Art and Media, Karlsruhe (2011); Making Normative Orders: Demonstrations of Power, Doubt and Protest, Frankfurter Kunstverein, Frankfurt (2012); and Documenta 13 (2012). Abidi lives and works between Karachi and New Delhi.

Source: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.

Bani Abidi Featured Artworks

Security Barriers (M-Z) by Bani Abidi contemporary artwork
Bani AbidiSecurity Barriers (M-Z), 2019Inkjet prints
11 x 17 cm
Experimenter Contact Gallery
Searching for Stars Amongst the Crescents by Bani Abidi contemporary artwork
Bani AbidiSearching for Stars Amongst the Crescents, 20153 Channel Video (for Plasma TV screens)
Experimenter Contact Gallery
Memorial to Lost Words by Bani Abidi contemporary artwork
Bani AbidiMemorial to Lost Words, 2017–2018Sound and sculptural installation, 8 channel audio, 25 marble slabs with engraved text, installation dimensions variable
Experimenter Contact Gallery

Bani Abidi Recent Exhibitions

Contemporary art exhibition, Group Show, Searching for Stars Amongst the Crescents at Experimenter, Ballygunge Place, Kolkata
23 August–25 October 2019 Group Show Searching for Stars Amongst the Crescents ExperimenterBallygunge Place
Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, By All Means: Works from South Asia and it's Diaspora at Thomas Erben Gallery, New York
3–8 June 2008 Group Exhibition By All Means: Works from South Asia and it's Diaspora Thomas Erben GalleryNew York

Bani Abidi Represented By

Experimenter contemporary art gallery in Ballygunge Place, Kolkata, India Experimenter Kolkata

Bani Abidi In Ocula Magazine

Bani Abidi: ‘What you see in my films is what I know’ Ocula Conversation Bani Abidi: ‘What you see in my films is what I know’ By Federica Bueti, Berlin

Bani Abidi discusses her research interests, from gentrification to identity politics, ahead of her exhibition at Sharjah Art Foundation, Funland, which follows They Died Laughing, the artist's first comprehensive exhibition in Germany at Martin-Gropius-Bau.

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Bani Abidi In Related Press

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Bani Abidi: The Last Laugh Related Press Bani Abidi: The Last Laugh 9 September 2019, Open

INCIDENTALLY, BARELY a week before I travelled from a town in Northern Italy to Berlin to attend the opening of Bani Abidi's They Died Laughing at Gropius Bau, my father-in-law brought home a mango. Perhaps he remembered me musing about how I had missed the season since I'd chosen to spend the summer in Südtirol. It was a large mango. I assumed...

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“They Died Laughing”: Bani Abidi at Gropius Bau, Berlin Related Press “They Died Laughing”: Bani Abidi at Gropius Bau, Berlin 30 August 2019, Mousse Magazine

This conversation with Pakistani Berlin-based artist and filmmaker Bani Abidi revolves around some of the core features of her substantial solo exhibition at Martin Gropius Bau in Berlin, curated by Natasha Ginwala and spanning two decades of her practice. ANTONIA ALAMPI: I'd like to start by looking into the use of humor in your work—and...

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At Berlin’s Gropius Bau, A Biting Survey of Pakistani Artist Bani Abidi Related Press At Berlin’s Gropius Bau, A Biting Survey of Pakistani Artist Bani Abidi 15 August 2019, Frieze

The video and print-based works in Pakistani artist Bani Abidi's exhibition 'They Died Laughing' at Berlin's Gropius Bau draw us into the side-wings of the nation state: a sculptor's studio in Uttar Pradesh, India, where public Gandhi statues are churned out, or the viscous flow of everyday bureaucracy.

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Berlin: Bani Abidi’s stirring works make a mark at Berlin’s Gropius Bau Museum Related Press Berlin: Bani Abidi’s stirring works make a mark at Berlin’s Gropius Bau Museum 9 August 2019, Architectural Digest

Bani Abidi is an artist whose work is challenging to categorise. Part stylised documentary, part performance art and part fiction, her films often feature non-actors and grapple with questions of identity, politics and the culture of control. The most visceral theme, however, is humour—Abidi's acknowledgement of the absurd, and appreciation...

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