Pakistani Artist’s Truck Art on Military Drones displayed at British War Museum

Truck Art on Drones


3 minutes read

Pakistan artist Mahwish Chishti was invited to exhibit in a solo show at Imperial War Museum (IWM) in London, UK in Fall 2016. Mahwish was initially trained as a Miniature Painter at National College of Arts, Lahore. The IWM London fall exhibit started October 19, 2016 and ends March 19, 2017. This exhibit is a part of ongoing exploration of the relationship between art and contemporary warfare.

Ms. Chishty’s work aggressively combines new media concepts with her traditional practice. By camouflaging modern war machines with folk imagery, she sheds light on the complexity of acculturation, politics and power. In her artistic research she combines her interest in Pakistani traditional folk culture and contemporary politics.

Mahwish has exhibited her work nationally and internationally at venues like University of Technology (UTS Gallery) Sydney, Australia; Boghossian Foundation– Villa Empain; Brussels; Utah Museum of Contemporary Art; Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts (MOCADA), Brooklyn, NY; University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI and Gandhara Art Gallery, Karachi, Pakistan among others. She also has works in public and private collections including the Foreign office Islamabad, Pakistan and Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, Fukuoka Shi, Japan.

Mahwish traveled to Pakistan from US in 2011 and noticed how different it was from six years ago. Endless discussions about US drone strikes continued around her in contrast to complete absence of information about drones in US. Constant presence of these unmanned aircraft in Pakistan struck her to start a Drone series. She combines symbols of violence and contemporary warfare with Pakistani artistic and cultural traditions. She used the vibrant and bright, floral and calligraphic truck art to transform the war machines into objects of beauty.

She calls the transformation ‘a second skin’ that represents Pakistani Culture. She accompanies her paintings with cultural text and poetic expressions giving it a wonderful new visual language. The Drone series was born with her interest in juxtaposition of terror with cultural beauty.

This particular exhibition features a mixture of sculptural paintings on wood, painted drone models and works on paper. Each piece reflects her training in traditional miniature painting, an art tradition that goes back to the Mughal Empire. In her most recent work she used collectors’ drone models and museum shop toys to paint over their surface in bright colors with subtle references to truck art.

Her paintings repeatedly use the essentials of Pakistani Truck Art that are relatable to the people of this land. She used the female eye, a prominent element of truck art, to represent modern surveillance. The paintings bring together poetic and religious texts with patterns of traffic lights, birds and insects.