Contents of Her Bedside Drawer and Wardrobe [Substitute] (2016)

Soft Target (2011 -)








The Soft Target performances examine the construction of a cultural identity in relation to iconic sites and structures on a tourist map, which have been marked as ‘soft targets’ since the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001. Familiar markers of the history and iconography of Eastern and Western cultures, the rise and fall of such sites and structures in the discourse of cultural identity construct presents a model of ongoing deterioration and preservation. This implies a particular aesthetic sensibility: one that is imbued with a sense of mortality, melancholy, and nostalgia. Echoing Susan Sontag’s notion that “the camera makes everyone a tourist in other people's reality, and eventually in one's own,”[1] the Soft Target photo-performances began in 2011 as an investigation of my position as a Muslim Pakistani artist in diaspora.[2] It is an ongoing journey where I am the traveller, the observer, and the one who is being observed from the ground and from above.

In Soft Target I appear with my target at various locations around the world, including Sydney, New York, Beijing and Dubai, where my body speaks in John Cage’s silence and reverberates in dhikr, a remembrance. Some of the structures shown in the series are popular tourist spots or sites of human achievement and failure. Some stand erect, rising with exposed grids, whereas others kiss the earth covered with arabesque patterns and create their own horizon. Glass, concrete, marble and brick; square, circle and rectangle; line, curve and dot; every material, shape and size is on view, bathing in awe of the shimmering daylight or twinkling under the moon and stars.

The performances simultaneously address fixed and shifting authority; investigate the current nature of power, stereotype, and the politics of freedom of speech; and question the current desire for and rhetoric of agreement and consensus in a pluralist society. The resulting photographs are markers of time and are both the message and the medium. It is up to the viewer as to how they interpret the image and experience. This shifting interpretation, misinterpretation of meaning from a site first to an individual, and then to a collective, is the essence of the resulting photographs of the performances. 

[1]     Susan Sontag, On Photography (New York: Penguin, 2008 [1977]), 75.

[2]     The Soft Target are ‘photo-performances’, a term coined by Ann Marsh; they “are presented as a series and document a performance process.” For Marsh a photo-performance emerges from the term performative photography which is a “particular genera where the artists him or herself is pictured. These images may be considered in relation to artist’s self-portraiture but many of the photographs appear to reference the ephemeral history of performance art and/or draw upon this to produce works in different media.” Marsh, Performance Ritual, 51.


Buzzing & Murmuring (2009)

Referencing Edward Said’s Orientalism, and Homi Bhabha’s notion of the stereotype as mimicry (camouflage), Buzzing and Murmuring identify the Post 9-11 myths and stereotypes surrounding the Muslim cultural and religious practices relating to the traditional appearance of a Muslim male, specifically the beard, along with associated imagery derived from the prayer rug, Muslim worship, Salat, and the mosque. Beehive metaphors in W are also explored. The dualistic concepts surrounding the stereotypes and personifications that result in ‘otherness’ are the key aspects of this research project where as the binary nature of beehive metaphors (both in Western and Muslim art, history, literature and media) provides the conceptual and visual anchor. The Lambda prints express layers of interpretation of the clash of international political entities alongside the cultural contestations and religious belief systems within the Muslim culture, and reflections upon Syed's own identity as a Muslim man divided between the East and the West. Due to its conceptual yet allegorical content, this research is descriptive, and is intended to lay the ground for future research aimed at examining the compounded variables of potential cultural clashes, religious conflicts, and political action.


Attention at Ease [Born To Be] (2007)

An on going research project in which Syed examines politics of national identity and the republican and religious states of leadership in a Muslim society like Pakistan through such issues as hybrid identities, self-examination, and exploration of personal journey in this globalised 21st century. Through various political and religious tropes of nationalist and religious clothing, symbols, text and forms, Syed questions about his heritage and Pakistani roots while questioning “What is this place where I grew up? and how long will this troubled nation continue to perpetuate this pattern of ignorance? The end result is a form of a hybrid art, which involves not just “you” or “I” but introduces “we.”