Khadim Ali's family, of Hazara refugees, originally from Bamiyan, Afghanistan, fled to Quetta in Pakistan to avoid persecution from the Taliban. However, after the September 11 attacks on the United States, and the subsequent invasion of Afghanistan, Quetta became the centre of the Taliban regime. Ali enrolled at the National College of Arts in Lahore, which provided him with refuge from persecution and the opportunity to study at the only university which taught the history and traditional techniques of miniature painting. These included making wasli and delicate brushes from bird feathers and animal hair.
The title Rustam Series refers to the heroic warrior from the celebrated 10th century epic Farsi poem in, the Shahnamah (Book of Kings) in which this pre-Islamic Persian titan is iconicised as the epitome of bravery, virtue, honor and glory. Today Ali has encountered a paradoxical appropriation of the secular Rustam by the younger members of the Taliban, despite themselves being Islamic fundamentalists.
Ali's diptych exemplifies a fusion of his eclectic heritage and traditional techniques. Slashed crimson heads are framed by the feather-like forms suspended across a red ribbon and simultaneously suggest traditional bird feather paintbrushes, and the beards of Taliban soldiers.
The horned figure who conjures this mystical reality refers to a hybrid manifestation of a Persian Div demon. "The demon I paint is a fusion of my own created elements with characters from the 11th century secular book by Abul Qasim Firdausi, the 'Shahnamah'". [http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/work/80.2011 accessed on April 30, 2012]. The crimson ribbon therefore alludes to a specific tale in the Shahnamah when the blood from the slain demon King Div-e Sepida was used to cure the captured King and heroes of Persia. Therefore what looks like a blood red ribbon is in fact a red ribbon of blood.
Farsi text adorns the work as a calligraphic exercise, evidence of a fetishistic and cathartic exorcism of the meticulous process of miniature painting. Ali juxtaposes multiple histories of Persia, sardonically reconfiguring and re-mystifying their meanings in a contemporary world where heroes and symbols of the past have been diluted and even perverted. Contradictions and paradoxes co-exist and from within this plethora of exquisitely executed references, new meanings emerges.