It was the day that Benazir Bhutto returned from exile; everyone was very optimistic that a bright future was ahead. I remember when I first stepped inside - I saw the body parts separated into piles and assembly lines of goats to be killed. I thought 'I don't know if I'm going to be able to handle this.' I remember thinking that the whole experience of being inside that slaughterhouse was too overpowering to possibly be translated into the art...But after spending a few minutes inside, I experienced something which happens to us everyday: I became de-sensitized and oddly adjusted to the situation. The initial shock of seeing living things being killed had worn off; everything just became surreal. When I returned home from the slaughterhouse, I flipped on the T.V. to see that Bhutto's return, the joyous event which I had seen in the morning, had turned into carnage because of a suicide bomb attack on her life. I couldn't help but connect the images I had seen in the slaughterhouse with the blood and gore on every single news channel. After that I knew I had to make art from the slaughterhouse images." (Rashid Rana, on his experience taking photographs in a Lahore slaughterhouse)
The images taken that day resulted in Rana's Red Carpet series in which the hundreds of composite images of goats being slaughtered form stunning impressions of traditional tapestries from this region. These works draw on, as well as critique, common themes within the history of both European and Eastern art-making traditions. Indo-Iranian tapestries are perhaps the quintessential visual representation of Europe's view of the East at the turn of the century, and even of the contemporary world's expectations of what art from the East should be: they are made by hand, extremely labor-intensive, reference medieval traditions, and are seductively ornate, with an emphasis on visual spectacle. Post-modern critiques of Orientalism highlight the fact that this over-exoticized view of Eastern cultures as either overly sensual, or violent and primitive, carries with it an inherently destructive perspective.
At first glance, the large-scale mounted photographs of the Red Carpet series would seem to support previously mentioned conventions by being both visually seductive and by appealing instantly as pure aesthetic gratification. Yet, upon closer inspection, it becomes obvious that Rana is subverting these notions of beauty, ornamentation, and exoticism in several ways. For one, the fact that he has transferred a labor-intensive handmade craft such as carpet-weaving into the digital medium immediately removes the emphasis from the hand (a previously-mentioned tacit requirement of Eastern art) and places it on the conceptual concerns of the work [....]
Rana's Red Carpet series, while implementing [...] tools of visual stimuli in order to fulfill the viewership's aesthetic requirements, simultaneously point out that for us to enjoy the intense and potent aesthetic appeal of the art piece from afar we must also emotionally disengage from the small disturbing images of violence. Essentially, Red Carpet series forces us, the viewers to re-live the same time-based experience, which Rana himself encountered inside the slaughterhouse. He cleverly weaves together references and critiques of both Eastern and Western civilizations, while skillfully employing and critiquing visual traditions of both. In the end, the Red Carpet series, just like the hundreds of tiny images in the work itself, give us a myriad of perspectives on culture, visual perception, violence, and ultimately, on life itself.
Michael Hilsman, Artist-in-Residence and Visiting Faculty at Beaconhouse National University, Lahore, Pakistan from "Rashid Rana: Beyond the Surface," The Power of the Ornament, exhibition catalogue, Belvedere Museum, Vienna, 2009, PP. 102-105.