Zoya Siddiqui is one of six artists undertaking residency at the Delfina Foundation this summer, working mainly in video, performance, installation and digital photography. Living and working outside her birthplace Lahore (Pakistan) for the past few years, her multi-media work explores questions that relate to spatial distance, memory and longing.
Siddiqui often works site specifically in close collaboration with communities that inhabit a certain space. Her large-scale installation Geology of a Home (2015) for example was created at the abandoned Brierfield Mill in Lancashire, where a high number of Pakistani immigrants used to work since the 1970s. When the mill closed down in the 1990s they were forced to look for other employment. Considering the complex relationship between Pakistan and the UK, shaped by colonialism and mass migration, the artist invited residents of the town (mostly Pakistani immigrants) to re-explore the cotton mill’s central position in giving birth to an entire diaspora community that still continues to grow. The project consisted of a monumental video that captured a live feed of participants seated on a red sofa, facing a projection of themselves. In addition, she contacted over a hundred families who have a shared history with the textile mill and photographed the sofas in their private homes. By showing those images in the mill itself, she reactivated the abandoned space as an active site of participation, reaffirming the presence of a group of people for whom the location used to function as a ‘home’. Geology of a Home reveals how migration, displacement and cultural memory shapes private and public spaces in a migrant community.
More recently Siddiqui has investigated how one can get access to a remote place through new mapping technologies such as satellite views or drones. In the film Memoryscape I (2017) we can see Google map and street view images navigating the places where she lived as a child from different, seemingly neutral perspectives. The publicly accessible, rather abstracted digital imagery is overlaid with the artist’s own voice recounting the personal memories she has of living in those places, therefore revealing what generally remains hidden in cartography.
The role media, especially religious broadcasting, plays as a form of belonging is examined in the video installation At a Distance of But Two Bow-Lengths, or Even Nearer (2018). Siddiqui recounts that she grew up watching a lot of ‘Muslim TV’ that was always running in the background of her childhood home in Pakistan. These broadcasts, which are common throughout the Muslim world, have been part of the imagined global Muslim brotherhood or ‘Ummah’ that is beyond the boundaries of territory. When living as an adult in the US, these films on the one hand side inevitably represent associations of ‘home’ to the artist, on the other side the same television seems uncanny to her when watching it from outside Pakistan. At a Distance of But Two Bow-Lengths, or Even Nearer focuses on the 24/7 live broadcast channel of the Kaabah, a contested site that seems to display unity of a global Muslimhood but carries its own complex histories of dissonance between Muslim communities. Through personal conversations with Pakistani friends and family, Siddiqui’s film questions the territory of Muslimhood through the Kaabah, its broadcast and its reception in Pakistan and other places.
This September she will be opening a new show, The Edge, at Bikaner House in New Delhi (India) that provides an insight into the everyday life of a 21-year-old undocumented migrant who travelled from Pakistan to Italy on foot. Siddiqui who had lengthy conversations with him over the phone and numerous WhatsApp exchanges has transferred this dialogue into a text and image installation that explores displacement and relation to home. By making him the main protagonist of her work she challenges the stereotypical representation of migrants in the mainstream media and gives him an individual and active voice.
Her residency in London is made possible through a new partnership between Delfina Foundation and Khurram Kasim Art Foundation (KKAF), a non-for-profit organisation created by Karachi based art collector Khurram Kasim to support artists from and within Pakistan. Zoya Siddiqui was selected from sixty participants after she responded to an open call to artists in 2017. Siddiqui has only graduated from University of Pennsylvania relatively recently, but this body of work shows her use of digital tools is a promising approach to questions around cultural and physical distance – and belonging – in an era of mass migration.
Zoya Siddiqui (b. 1990) is represented by Shrine Empire Gallery in New Delhi and has been part of international residencies at the Vasl Artists’ Collective Karachi, Theertha Performance Platform in Colombo, In-Situ UK, Delfina Residency UK, and Triangle Arts Association New York. Siddiqui has shown her works internationally on platforms such as the Dhaka Art Summit and India Art Fair. She recently completed her MFA in Visual Art at University of Pennsylvania with the Lawrence Shprintz Award and a Fulbright scholarship.
Siddiqui has also been deeply involved in the Lahore Biennale Foundation as Head of Research. Recent exhibitions include Parentheses at Apexart in New York (2017), Bild-Build at Icebox in Philadelphia (2018) and Corporeal at Shrine Empire Gallery in New Delhi (2016).