San Francisco, CA 94102
Gallery Wendi Norris is pleased to present Say My Name, a solo exhibition of new collage works by Ambreen Butt. Say My Name is Butt’s first exhibition with Gallery Wendi Norris.
Created as a means to explore the relationship between power and vulnerability and to pay homage to innocent lives lost, each of the twelve pieces in Say My Name incorporates the name and age of a single Afghan or Pakistani child killed in U.S. drone strikes. Butt commences by staining the paper in tea. She then separately and repeatedly writes or prints out the child’s name, shreds it into pieces, and arranges and glues the shredded fragments to her tea-stained paper in dense, swirling patterns. This process, undertaken with repetitive and transformational urgency, reconsiders the ripping, tearing action of a drone strike in order to elevate the names of its victims into shapes of exquisite grace and enduring strength.
Rhythmic repetition is also mirrored in the works’ scale. Eleven vertical compositions are uniformly cut and portrait-sized, a modest 30 x 20 inches (76.2 x 50.8 cm). Each work, however, takes on a unique and vibrant monochromatic palette. Presented together, they form a striking rainbow. The twelfth work, a towering triptych by contrast, “Wife and Son of Badr Mansoor” breaks up the careful pattern. A family of three, presented with pillar-like scale and strength, anchors the installation. Its bursting firework-like motifs of deep magenta and cherry red emanate with energetic force. “The wife and the son, whose names we do not know, are the victims,” remarks Butt, “But in this case, the person left behind, who is living, is also a victim, so I chose to represent them as a triptych.”
In many of the smaller works, Butt includes animal and landscape motifs inspired primarily by 16th century Indo-Persian miniature paintings of hunts that took place in present day territories of Afghanistan and Pakistan. She thereby re-contextualizes the contemporary geopolitical landscape as a layered manifestation of historical forces. For Butt, history is not behind us: It is unfolding around us. The twelve pieces in Say My Name present a vision of time that locates the past adjacent to the present (rather than hidden behind it) and a sense of place that maps human action onto the landscape (rather than hovering above it). In their combinations of paper shredded and arranged to resemble individual paint brush strokes with elegant animal motifs and hunting scenes, these artworks illuminate and challenge convenient distinctions between art and politics, beauty and tragedy, then and now, us and them.
A portion of sales revenue from the exhibition will be donated by the artist and the gallery to The Citizens Foundation, USA (TCF-USA). TCF-USA is a U.S. based 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that supports the education of underprivileged children in Pakistan. It has an active network of over 42 chapters across the United States. Among other activities, TCF-USA supports specific programs, initiatives and projects of The Citizens Foundation (TCF) in Pakistan, one of the leading organizations in the field of education in that country. TCF was started in 1995 by a group of concerned citizens who wanted to bring about social change through education. In 25 years, it has built and operates 1,652 purpose-built schools providing quality education to 266,000 children, with an all-female faculty of 12,554 teachers.