Heavenly Offerings [Assembly series] (2016)

Our urge to stop, stand still and look up at the sky to witness movement - gliding birds, floating kites and, at night, shooting stars – stems from an innocent curiosity and wonderment, questions about our place in this ‘surreal’ world where myths of flying carpets exist alongside man made flying machines, floating musical mobiles and even folded paper planes, which are introduced to us all at an early age. However, post 9/11, for many both in the west and the east, the fantasy of looking up has been overshadowed by the reality of a world instilled with fear, anxiety, violence and even death. For the first time, Syed presents a body of work that speaks of this change through the surreal language of truth and visualized through the poetics of movement and stillness.

The three works are not only connected conceptually (stillness and movement) but also share an underlining crux in techniques and materiality (cutting, erasure and assemblage). Together, these works examine the construction of a cultural identity in relation to the Orientalist gaze and stereotyping. They take their cue from Syed's fascination, experience and readings of looking up: from Hitchcock’s suicidal birds, to Japanese Kamikazi aircraft, to drone planes, Hollywoods’ interest with an ‘alien’ enemy, carpet bomber planes, and even the perculiar news reported one Monday afternoon in 2014 when locals saw a life-size palm tree dangling from a military Blackhawk helicopter in Dubai which, according to local media and news in UAE, was a film project dubbed as “very special to the UAE”. A flying date palm is not an unbelievable idea in the East, where fables of magical flying carpet exist alongside real man-made palm islands.

The body of work presented here simultaneously address fixed and shifting authority and gaze, investigating the current nature of power and the politics of freedom of speech. They question the current desire for and rhetoric of agreement and consensus in a pluralist society.