Magazine article Art Monthly

Bani Abidi: Section Yellow

Magazine article Art Monthly

Bani Abidi: Section Yellow

Article excerpt

Bani Abidi: Section Yellow

Baltic Gateshead 11 November to 12 February

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

I suspect most of us have felt the kind of anxieties to which Bani Abidi's photographs, videos and drawings refer: the anxiety of being processed by officials at an international airport, of not having one's forms ready for inspection, of having to talk through an intercom, of being on the wrong side of a security barrier outside an official building. They are part of life in our increasingly jittery, security-conscious world, which is why from time to time they surface in recent art. But what if these anxieties are being felt in Pakistan?

Pakistan, after all, is not just another faraway country with problems about which, to paraphrase Neville Chamberlain, we in UK know nothing. Pakistan is troubling and seemingly for very good reason. It is a populous, poor and overwhelmingly Muslim former colony that finds it hard to kick the habit of military dictatorship. After more than 60 years it still hasn't patched up its differences with its fellow nuclear power neighbour to the south. And most worrying, at least from David Cameron and Barack Obama's point of view, in spite of all the monetary and military aid it has received, it is perceived to take a very different view of the Taliban and al-Qaeda from that of the West.

The fact therefore that the setting of Abidi's work appears to be Pakistan is likely to give it a particular resonance for a UK audience. For many, myself included, it means that it probably raises troubling thoughts about how much the problems besetting Pakistan are the UK's responsibility, especially at the present time when the UK finds itself mired in a war in neighbouring Afghanistan.

Not that Abidi's work makes explicit comment on such matters. On the contrary, titles tend to be flatly descriptive, so much so that in the case of two digitally drawn typological studies--one of intercom devices, the other of security road barriers--it is almost as if we are looking at photographs by Bernd & Hilla Becher or items in a trade catalogue. And similarly in The distance from here, 2010, a 12-minute video in which a group of actors playing would-be travellers abroad are shown being made to wait by various officials at some unspecified airport, nothing is said; it is left for us to figure out what the implications are. …

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