The current state of global political theater proposes that between East and West seemingly lies conflict. A more accurate description may be “the conflicted.” Public Pool art space gives viewers a chance to reflect on this idea in Osman Khan’s solo show, “On Which Side, the Barbarians?” Born in Pakistan and raised in New York City, Khan explores the newly emerging Muslim (and, more specifically, Pakistani) identity, as well as current political, cultural and aesthetic repercussions.
“On Which Side, the Barbarians?” unfolds in two parts — both addressing notable ambiguities: Externalized conflict vs. internalized uncertainty, fabricated realities vs. constructed mythologies, East vs. West, and more.
In part one, Khan transports the exhibition to the gallery in a converted box truck. The truck suggests the transfer of iconography of one culture (colorful Pakistani Trucks painted with folk patterns and mythical iconography) to another, the arguably blander American cousin, where graphics are primarily corporate advertising.
“Placing unfamiliar iconography onto U.S. trucks introduces these images into the everyday, allowing them to become just another part of the visual landscape,” Khan explains. “The gesture also addresses ideas of cultural loss in immigrant communities, in this case Pakistani-American.”
Part two is the installation at Public Pool. Reflecting current Muslim and Pakistani identity politics, Khan literally divides the gallery in half with a wall. The works presented within this structure blurs aesthetic gestures within the contexts of current political repercussions. Seemingly benign drawn lines reverberate the traumas of colonial partitions, minimalist structures give sway to political overlay, and jokes and terror intermingle.
Overall, Khan’s show reflects on the afflictions, ambiguity and aspirations currently at play in the Muslim community, embracing uncertainty and providing no resolution. On which side lie the barbarians? The answer perhaps only depends on whom you ask.
Osman Khan has exhibited worldwide including at Shanghai Biennal; L.A. Louver, Los Angeles, Centre for Contemporary Art, Rotterdam, Netherlands and Ars Electronica Center, Linz, Austria. Articles about his work have appeared in Artforum, Artweek, Art Review, I.D., LA Times, the Wall Street Journal and Artnet. This is his first Public Pool collaboration.