Abject truth: Idris Khan explores the dire reality of global displacement
While Picasso’s searing 1937 masterpiece Guernica reflected the havoc of the Spanish Civil War to great acclaim, the London based artist Idris Khan too draws on contemporary violence. But rather then depict figures, Khan turns to language as well as numbers to reveal the current refugee crisis in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa.
Now, Khan’s subtle – but searing – oeuvre is spot lit in an exhibition at Chelsea’s Sean Kelly gallery: ‘Idris Khan: Overture’.
‘We’re in a deeply troubled time when millions of refugees escaping conflict is the norm,’ says Khan, whose father is from Pakistan and grew up in a Muslim household.
For his site-specific wall painting Displacement, Khan transcribed the now harrowing numbers of those seeking refuge in Europe and others in crisis, along with some of their personal stories, in a circular format. He layers over his finely stamped text in Arabic and a similar text in English. While Khan relies on language, the lines of the sentences meld into a single image both haunting and riveting.
In an additional radical departure from the paintings, photographs and drawings on view, Khan has – for the first time – also turned to glass as medium. His large scale work Overture consists of seven panels of glass onto which he has stamped the same message in both Arabic and English. The sheets of glass – each more than four feet in height – are suspended from an aluminium frame.
‘I sought to give a sense of how disturbing news can disappear from our minds, yet always be there,’ Khan says.