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Salman Toor (b. 1983)
Rooftop Party with Ghosts 1
oil on canvas
46 ¾ x 66 1/8 in. (118.7 x 168 cm.)
Painted in 2015.
Provenance
Aicon Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Exhibited
New York, Aicon Gallery, Salman Toor: Resident Alien, October-December 2015, pp. 3, 13 and 33 (illustrated).

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Emily Kaplan
Emily Kaplan

Lot Essay

“Come let us go to a place where all are blind. Where no one is ahead and no one is behind.”
(B. Shah, paraphrased by S. Toor, quoted in B. Vasvani, “Painting the Imagined Space Where East and West Harmonize”, Hyperallergic, 30 November 2015)

All walks of life convene tonight on this city terrace, as Salman Toor’s Rooftop Party with Ghosts 1 (2015) celebrates myriad elements of diversity across time and space in his signature calligraphic style. Men and women mix and mingle with leisure on their minds, foregrounded by a couple on the precipice of intimacy juxtaposed with another pair somewhat deeper into their amorous throes just behind. Rendered in various stages of completion, Toor’s figures pulse in and out of reality, some engaged solely with one another, firmly entrenched in the picture plane and others peering out beyond the fourth wall to make contact with the viewer. In the midst of the melee, a lonesome, spectral sojourner suddenly finds himself surveying this unfamiliar urban festival, haunted by a blank thought bubble waiting to be filled. Tossed into a contemporary morass of identity politics and distorted relationships, Toor’s traveler must do his own internal work of reconciliation between the distant land from where he has come and this novel, messy milieu. Headlining the telling scene is an excerpt from the seventeenth-century Sufi poet Bulleh Shah’s writings written in Urdu and loosely translated as:
O’ Bulleh Shah let’s go there
Where everyone is blind
Where no one recognizes our caste (or race, or family name)
And where no one believes in us
Where, in Toor’s updated context, is Shah’s “there”? Where must Toor’s characters go to step outside the stereotypical boxes into which society has inevitably cast them? In the same way the visiting apparition has confronted a segregation unique to the caste system practiced in his native home, so too must Toor’s modern young people undertake a journey of their own to challenge the confines of their imposed roles and reach their truest selves.
These cross-cultural musings are central to Toor’s practice, which has evolved from intense study of the Old Masters and French Rococo into an autobiographical catalogue of contemporary queer life. Born in Lahore, Pakistan, educated in the midwestern United States and now settled in Brooklyn, New York, Toor has long sought to expose and interrogate the brewing tensions between East and West, crafting a new visual language sung by the voices of the oppressed: “I like for the characters in my painting to move between vulnerability and empowerment. I like foolish, marionette-like figures that evoke empathy as immigrants crossing borders, but they also have agency and dignity: things that have not been traditionally associated with our faces and bodies in painting” (S. Toor, quoted in N. Gupta, “Pakistani-origin, New York-based artist Salman Toor wants to paint a world where the East and West harmonise”, GQ India, 12 March 2020). Toor’s dignified, lyrical bodies will be front and center in his solo exhibition How Will I Know at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, rescheduled from early 2020 to remain open now through April 2021, and which has already received critical acclaim.
A painter’s painter descended from the line of art history and deposited into today’s divisive cultural moment, Toor constructs his imagined, thoughtful narratives towards an architecture of hope – that out of this darkness will emerge unified bodies bursting with light. “For Toor, these ‘ghosts’ serve as reverberating echoes of origins, ‘cultural baggage’, as well as enablers of disruption and reinvention of static ideas of self and belonging” (“Foreword”, in Salman Toor: Resident Alien, exh. cat., New York, Aicon Gallery, 2015, p. 4). As much a commentary on intercultural interaction as it is an invitation to participate, the present work reaches out a stylized, elegant hand to guide its newfound guest out of this gathering of strangers and specters and into a harmonized future where the view from the rooftop is of a city aglow.

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