This week we welcome Khalil Chishtee, a visual artist based in New York City. Before moving to the U.S., he taught sculpture and ceramics at the National College of Arts in Lahore, Pakistan, for ten years, and later went on to earn a master’s degree in studio arts from Sacramento State University in California.. Chishtee has exhibited widely, and has completed public commissions such as the entry sculptures for the Lahore Zoo, and the facade of the Castle Braid building in Bushwick, Brooklyn.
Chishtee intends his art for transformation rather than decoration, diversion or indoctrination. In his view, this work is meant to cultivate knowledge of how to be in the world, and how to go through life.
His installations, sculptures, and site-specific works have been exhibited internationally, including in the 56th International Venice Biennale , India Habitat Centre, in New Delhi, Sanat Gallery, in Karachi, India Art Fair in New Delhi, and the Asia Society Museum, in New York, among others.
Using shredded, bunched, bundled, and knotted plastic bags, Chishtee creates figural sculptures brimming with emotional tension. He works only with the bags themselves, constructing his sculptures by artfully manipulating the plastic as if he was working with clay.
“Trash bags feel like clay in my fingers,”he says. “In art, one has to be the voice of one’s own time, not an echo of another era. We live in the age of plastic, and plastic trash bags are the most ordinary form of this material. It goes back to the Sufi approach of my upbringing where worth does not depend on what you inherit, it depends on who you are. Artworks made out of bronze, wood, stone or painted on a canvas typically carry the appearance of a precious object, because of historic precedence, but if one can change the impact of that history, one is an artist.”
Chishtee’s “Text” works, based on Islamic calligraphy, are imbued with a fluid, mesmerizing quality. The elegance and aesthetics of the script can be appreciated without the ability to read it. However, an investment in interpreting the text in Chishtee’s work reveals critical content as well. Through this practice, he interrogates the relationship between form and content, as a critique on the reverence of form and icons as blind faith over the deeper messages that come with focused contemplation.
See more of Chishtee’s work on his website and Instagram. You can also see his work in Ground Games, Epicenter’s exhibition which opens November 5th.