Baseera Khan: I Am an Archive
Baseera Khan’s art practice presents a counter-archive to the skewed and silencing histories of imperialism and its dominating enterprise. Debuting an array of sculptures and photographs, in conversation with key works made by the artist since 2017, Baseera Khan: I Am an Archive explores Khan’s body as a site of accumulated experiences, histories, and trauma, and as a tool for self-protection and liberation.
Khan (born 1980, Denton, Texas) compares their own body, life, and art to an archive, through which the artist calls out the othering, xenophobia, and surveillance that underpin social expectations of assimilation into dominant U.S. culture. Khan presents a kaleidoscope of references to personal and political conflicts that encompass their background growing up Muslim in Texas; the heightened nationalist violence in the United States and India; and their solidarity with exploited women and femmes of color worldwide. The artist’s experiences as a femme Muslim inform their decolonial, feminist explorations of the impact of labor and politics on individual lives.
Khan’s work is deeply concerned with materials, as both medium and subject. From petroleum-based plastics, to hair, to “oriental” rugs, to the architecture that symbolizes empire, Khan exposes how resources are not apolitical but the very catalysts of global change. The exchange of resources generates distinctions between trading communities that foster group identities and often propel networks of exploitation, creating economic power imbalances. In I Am an Archive, materials underscore how capitalism and colonialism drive markets and global politics, continuing cycles of oppression that may be unseen by consumers.
The artistic medium of collage operates as the compositional device uniting complex stories across Khan’s work. Collage also reflects the artist’s Iranian, Indian, Afghani, and East African background, affirming the power of cultural specificity while asserting the need for global solidarity in the struggle for political and personal sovereignty.
In this gallery light and shadow, and revelation and concealment, operate as metaphors and tools for self-protection in a social landscape of surveillance and othering. Woven into the artworks are Khan’s own experiences growing up Muslim in Texas, as well as the increasing Islamophobia following 9/11, epitomized recently by the 2017–21 “Muslim Ban” barring entry into the United States from seven Muslim-majority countries. Gold jewelry, gel nails, and the floral motifs of traditional textile art function as adornments that deflect and soften the injuries of oppression, serving as both camouflage and comfort.
Most of the artworks in this gallery are created with plexiglass, an acrylic plastic widely used for everyday objects such as windows and eyewear. Khan’s use of acrylic—made from petroleum, a nonrenewable fossil fuel—subtly references the negative stereotypes associated with oil-rich, Muslim-majority nations such as Saudi Arabia and Iraq, and the destabilizing and destructive wars for oil led by the United States in the Middle East: the 1990–91 Gulf War and the 2003–11 Iraq War. A reliance on petroleum unites the economies of the United States and Middle Eastern countries, yet it is also the flashpoint for conflict.
--- Braidrage (2017–ongoing), Khan’s best-known, multidisciplinary work, encompasses sculpture, video, drawing, and performance. Debuted at New York’s Participant Inc, in 2017, it centers the body as a tool for processing trauma and as a site of strength and sovereignty.
The main material motif of Braidrage is hair. It is an implement by which Khan scales the wall, composed of ninety-nine resin climbing holds cast from the artist’s body and embedded with gold and silver chains, hypothermia blankets, and synthetic and real hair imported from India. These elements allude to hazardous refugee journeys and the worldwide economic exploitation of women’s labor and bodies—especially the hair of South Asian women, which is central to the accelerating global beauty economy spurred by the entertainment industry. The range of skin tones references the racial and ethnic diversity of Muslims across the globe, as well as the interconnection of racism, colorism, and patriarchy, forces that Khan symbolically surmounts in a precarious climb.
In the nearby Psychedelic Prayer Rugs (2017), Khan brings histories of protest into the mental space of prayer and meditation, linking internal and external liberation.
Architecture and buildings are essential to the construction—and often, the fall—of empires. Cultural sites such as houses of worship, museums, and libraries are targeted for destruction and pillaging. These acts of cultural erasure devalue and dehumanize communities and histories while reinforcing religious bigotry, nationalism, and fascism. Implicating museums in the creation and maintenance of imperialist and othering narratives, Khan approaches objects from the Brooklyn Museum’s Arts of the Islamic World collection with a critical eye.
In Snakeskin (2019), inspired by Roman archaeological sites, slices of Corinthian columns made of lightweight insulation material are wrapped in Kashmiri rugs and presented as hollow ruins, suggesting the insidious nature of empire and colonialism. Khan’s use of Kashmiri textiles points to empires and dominions that persist today, as India and Pakistan suppress Kashmir’s struggle for independence. Other works in this gallery mimic the architectures of surveillance or personalize the Five Pillars of Islam, symbolizing its core beliefs and practice, from Khan’s decolonial, feminist perspective.
The books in this Reading Room expand on the references and ideas in Baseera Khan: I Am an Archive. Please take a seat, and feel free to photograph pages of interest. The artist encourages you to use the pencils provided to make your own notes and highlights in these resources.
Reading and research are essential elements of Baseera Khan’s artistic process. Khan selected the books featured here, and some have appeared in previous installations of their work. A scan of Khan’s notes in the margins of Arundhati Roy’s 2016 essay “My Seditious Heart,” from her essay collection The End of Imagination, appears in Khan’s Censored Hands (2019) in a nearby gallery. Other texts by Frantz Fanon, Jean Genet, and Patrick Hoenig and Navsharan Singh give wider context to the contemporary politics and colonial histories referenced in the exhibition.
Khan’s artist’s book Core-On (2017/2021) is among these resources, and select pages are reproduced on the walls. Core-On illuminates the artist's process in creating their 2017 exhibition at Participant Inc, New York, where Braidrage and several other artworks in this exhibition debuted.
All books are available for purchase in the Brooklyn Museum Shop on the 1st floor.
June 23, 2021
I Am an Archive is the artist’s first solo museum exhibition, presented as part of the annual UOVO Prize for an emerging Brooklyn-based artist.
Baseera Khan’s mural for UOVO Brooklyn unveiled June 22.
Baseera Khan: I Am an Archive debuts eleven new artworks, in conversation with key works made since 2017, that explore Khan’s body as a site of accumulations of experiences, histories, and traumas. Khan uses their own body as an archive, often employing a variety of multimedia collage techniques to visualize the lived experiences of people at the intersections of Muslim and American identities, both today and throughout history. The works on view in the exhibition include sculptures, installations, collages, drawings, photographs, textiles, and a video in which Khan unpacks practices of othering, surveillance, cultural exploitation, anti-blackness, and xenophobia within our public and private spaces and proposes avenues for protection and liberation. As the recipient of the UOVO Prize, given for an artist living or working in Brooklyn, Khan was awarded an exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum as well as a commission for a large-scale public art installation—now on public view—on the façade of UOVO’s Brooklyn facility, in Bushwick. The exhibition is on view October 1, 2021–July 10, 2022, and is curated by Carmen Hermo, Associate Curator, Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, Brooklyn Museum. A full list of public programs supplementing the exhibition will be announced at a later date.
The first section of the exhibition features a new series of chandelier sculptures that are inspired by disco balls and that reference Khan’s family collection of traditional textile patterns, transforming a gallery of the Sackler Center into a shadowed space with glimmering lights. The chandeliers are accompanied by four works from Khan’s photographic series I Arrive in a Place with a High Level of Psychic Distress (2020–21), which explores self-protection in the face of bodily and mental distress caused by surveillance, oppression, and generational trauma.
The exhibition title is taken from a new artwork, I Am an Archive. For this sculpture, Khan used body-scanning technology to create a self-portrait bust that refers to classical South Asian goddess figures such as those found in the Brooklyn Museum collection. The sculpture points to the ongoing violence against femme-identified people in South Asia, the Middle East, and East Africa and reflects the artist’s background. The artwork I Am an Archive is also in dialogue with Braidrage (2017), one of Khan’s best known performance and installation works. Braidrage depicts the artist climbing a wall made from ninety-nine resin casts of portions of their own body embedded with gold and silver chains, hypothermia blankets, and synthetic and real hair imported from India. In the performance, Khan incorporates rock climbing techniques of endurance and strength as metaphors for overcoming personal and imperialist traumas including the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the global impact of American economic policy, and the rise of Hindu nationalism in South Asia.
The exhibition also questions the framework of colonialism that persists throughout collecting institutions such as the Brooklyn Museum, and explores the wider history of how museums categorize—often arbitrarily—the cultures represented in their collections. In Snakeskin (2019), hollow Corinthian-column fragments, which refer to the Roman empire, are wrapped in Kashmiri rugs and discarded as ruins, cutting to the core of the insidious nature of empire and colonialism. Khan also presents new photographs incorporating works from the Brooklyn Museum’s Arts of the Islamic World collection. These and other artworks featured in the exhibition express Khan’s deep interest in revealing the economics of goods and materials—such as oil, hair, architecture, and art—as commodities that create inequalities and otherness and that are historical and contemporary drivers of global change.
“Just as a body can be an archive, artworks also contain images and stories that revel in complexity and specificity,” says Carmen Hermo, Associate Curator, Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, Brooklyn Museum. “Baseera Khan harnesses humor, history, and a sense of catharsis in their visually rich and powerful work. It’s an honor and a thrill to present this exhibition.”
Khan is the recipient of the second annual UOVO Prize, which recognizes the work of emerging Brooklyn artists. As part of the prize, they receive a solo exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, a commission for a 50x50-foot public art installation on the façade of UOVO’s Brooklyn facility, and a $25,000 unrestricted cash grant. The mural, which was unveiled June 22, is a large-scale reproduction of an image from the artist’s Braidrage performance, which is documented—using video, sculpture, and drawing—in the Brooklyn Museum exhibition.
Baseera Khan: I Am an Archive is curated by Carmen Hermo, Associate Curator, Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, Brooklyn Museum. The UOVO Prize is made possible by UOVO. Major support for this exhibition is provided by the Brooklyn Museum’s Contemporary Art Committee.
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December 2, 2020
Brooklyn-based artist to receive a solo exhibition, public installation, and $25,000 cash award
The Brooklyn Museum is pleased to award Baseera Khan the second annual UOVO Prize, which recognizes the work of emerging Brooklyn-based artists. Khan’s work concentrates on performance, Islamic cultural and religious ephemera, sculpture, collage, and video, and addresses issues of surveillance, otherness, and the body. As the awardee, Khan will receive a solo exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, a commission for a 50x50-foot public art installation on the façade of UOVO: BROOKLYN, located in Bushwick, and a $25,000 unrestricted cash grant. Their public installation and Museum exhibition will debut in fall of 2021. Khan was selected by a team of curators from the Brooklyn Museum, and the exhibition, the artist’s first solo museum show, will be curated by Carmen Hermo, Associate Curator, Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art.
“Baseera Khan’s proposal for the Brooklyn Museum thrilled the curators with its poignant synthesis of historical and contemporary references,” says Hermo. “Their deep sense of care for their communities, razor-sharp critical foundations, and rich sense of humor imbue their work with both power and play, and will challenge and delight visitors to the Museum in 2021.”
Khan, who grew up in Denton, Texas, and has lived in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, the past ten years, uses their work to call out the social architectures of othering, exploitation of cultures and resources, and xenophobia within our public and private spaces. Khan’s practice often incorporates collage techniques, their own body, and myriad references to historical and contemporary Muslim culture and politics, revealing the oppressions of patriarchy. Approaching the challenges of assimilation and belonging as they relate to a variety of experiences, from self-fashioning to spirituality, Khan harnesses history, humor, and a sense of catharsis in their materially resonant work.
“I remember moving to Brooklyn in 2007, quite close to the Brooklyn Museum in fact, and I’ve lived close by ever since,” says Khan. “I am deeply moved that my first museum solo exhibition will happen in a space that provided me and others with so much comfort during the lockdown of COVID-19. Past the visions of cherry blossoms and botanic desires, the Museum has such a vast collection and scholarship around Islamic art as well as work by Black and Brown artists. The work I will present could not be in a better location.”
Steve Guttman, UOVO Founder and Chairman, remarks: “We are excited by the selection of Baseera Khan as the second recipient of the UOVO Prize in conjunction with the Brooklyn Museum. We look forward to celebrating this achievement and showcasing their thought-provoking composition at UOVO: BROOKLYN in 2021.”
The inaugural UOVO Prize winner was announced in June 2019. John Edmonds, whose installation for UOVO: BROOKLYN is on view through next year, is also the focus of a solo exhibition, John Edmonds: A Sidelong Glance, at the Brooklyn Museum and on view through August 8, 2021.
About the artist
Baseera Khan was born in Denton, Texas, and lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. Upcoming solo exhibitions include Public Art Fund, New York (2021, forthcoming), and Atlanta Contemporary, Atlanta, Georgia (2021, forthcoming). Selected solo and two-person exhibitions include The Kitchen, New York (2020); Simone Subal Gallery, New York (2019); Jenkins Johnson, New York (2019); Colorado Springs Fine Art Centers, Colorado (2018); Texas Christian University College of Fine Arts, Fort Worth, Texas (2017); and Participant Inc. Gallery, New York (2017). Selected group exhibitions include Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, Ohio (2021, forthcoming); NOMA, New Orleans, Louisiana (2020); Gracie Mansion Conservancy, New York (2020); LACE, Los Angeles, California (2020); Munich Documentation Centre for the History of National Socialism, Munich, Germany (2019); BRIC, New York (2019); Albany Museum, Albany, New York (2019); Ford Foundation Gallery, New York (2019); Helena Anrather, New York (2019); St. John the Divine Church, New York (2019); Simone Subal Gallery, New York (2018); MoCA Tucson, Arizona (2018); Katonah Museum of Art, Katonah, New York (2018); 47 Canal, New York (2018); Paul Kasmin Gallery, New York (2018); Smack Mellon, New York (2018); The Kitchen, New York (2018); Kate Werble Gallery, New York (2018); Sculpture Center, New York (2018); Aspen Art Museum, Aspen, Colorado (2018); Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2017); Queens Museum, New York (2016); Socrates Sculpture Park, New York (2016); and Abrons Art Center, New York (2016). Khan has been awarded numerous grants and fellowships including the BRIC Colene Brown Art Prize (2019), Joan Mitchell Painters and Sculptors Grant (2019), and Art Matters (2018). Artist residencies include LUX Art Institute, Encinitas, California (2021, forthcoming); Pioneer Works, New York (2018); AIRspace, Abrons Art Center, New York (2016); and Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture Program, Maine (2014). Khan’s work is part of the following public collections: Kadist, Paris and San Francisco; The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; and Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota.
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