Lahore based artist, Rashid Rana is one of Pakistan's most celebrated contemporary artists, and his work has been regularly exhibited in Pakistan and internationally to great acclaim. Known for his mosaic-like montages of miniature photographic images, Rana started to work on a series in 2002 in which he plays with notions of duality and gestalt theory by creating visual icons, often inspired by Pakistani historical figures and forms, composed of a digitised pixilation of subversive images. In his seminal Red Carpet series, the artist resurrects the patterns of traditional woven carpets from the region, recognised internationally for their high quality and craftsmanship. On closer examination of these works, however, the viewer realises that the overall image is constructed of several smaller images taken in various slaughterhouses, lending their blood-red colour to the carpet. In an acutely subversive manner, Rana thus creates an image associated with beauty and heritage out of several pixel sized images of violence and death. This ironic juxtaposition challenges viewers to think and see beyond the image they are regularly fed as part of contemporary visual culture, and also to question appearances and histories.
“Pixelation is Rana’s mode in that he builds his large prints by amassing thousands of smaller images that become ‘pixels’ in service of a bigger picture [...] And pixelation is Rana’s metaphor, because through the relationship between the larger image and its constituent elements, he leads us to meditations about part and whole, surface and depth, fragment and meaning.” (K. Singh, ‘Rashid Rana’, Chatterjee & Lal website, accessed January 2012)
Speaking about the day he began to work on the series of Red Carpet photomontages, Rana recalls a visit to a slaughterhouse, saying, “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-sensitised 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 TV 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.” (Artist statement, M. Hilsman, ‘Rashid Rana: Beyond the Surface’, The Power of the Ornament, exhibition catalogue, Vienna, 2009, p. 102)
In 2015, Rana exhibited in ‘My East is Your West’ at the 56th Venice Biennale alongside fellow artist Shilpa Gupta. His work has also been the subject of numerous solo exhibitions around the world, including at the Musée Guimet in Paris in 2010, Cornerhouse in Manchester in 2011 and at the Mohatta Palace Museum in Karachi in 2013.