Sharjah Art Foundation (Sharjah, United Arab Emirates): Lala Rukh
- Lala Rukh 1948 – 2017
- Video, projection, colour, sound (stereo) and 88 works on paper, ink on paper
- Object, each: 162 × 215 mm
duration: 6min, 12sec
- Purchased with funds provided by the South Asia Acquisitions Committee 2019
This work comprises a six-and-a-half minute digital animation with sound, shown as a projection, and eighty-eight ink drawings. The animation can be shown on its own or alongside all or some of the drawings. It exists in an edition of five with two artist’s proofs; Tate’s copy is number one in the main edition. Rupak was Lala Rukh’s last work before her death in 2017 and her largest body of drawings produced as a single work; it was first shown as part of documenta 14 in 2017, installed in the Athens Conservatoire (Odeion) and is emblematic of the artist’s interest in the relationship between music, rhythm, movement and line.
Born in Lahore, Pakistan, Lala Rukh was an artist and feminist known for her activism and strong political views, combined with a restrained minimalist aesthetic and resolutely private artistic practice. Rupak is the culmination of a progression that combined the artist’s interest in classical music with her ongoing explorations of movement and temporality through drawing. Lala Rukh’s father, Hayat Ahmad Khan, was the founder of the All Pakistan Music Conference (APMC), an organisation devoted to the patronage and promotion of folk and classical music in Pakistan.
Hindustani classical music has no visual notation and is taught by ear. Using a horizontal axis as a baseline, Rupak is an attempt to create a visual notation for a beat that structurally lends itself to infinite variation; the ‘taal’ or rhythm is based on seven beats divided into three parts of unequal length. The title Rupak is the name of the ‘taal’ employed for this work and does not have a direct translation into English. To measure it visually, Lala Rukh developed a new musical language, using the calligraphic ‘nukta’ or ‘qat’ as her unit of measurement. Employing the discipline of calligraphy to contain the unruliness of an improvisational form, she traced the notes of the Rupak taal using the diamond-shaped punctuation mark as her basic unit of measurement against a horizontal axis. She had commissioned the recording of the Rupak taal from the musician Sunny Justin, who she met through the APMC.
Lala Rukh was trained as a calligrapher and often used the forms of letters in her drawings, appearing to trace or scatter them against the line of the horizon in her signature seascapes. Her interest in the movement of the sea, the play of light and darkness and the consistent attempt to describe movement and landscape through an increasingly refined economy of line and with a largely monochromatic palette bring Lala Rukh into dialogue with other women artists from the region, such as Nasreen Mohammedi (1937–1990) or Zarina Hashmi (born 1937). The three artists are not known to have crossed paths in person, but all three were art instructors and shared an interest in progression and process.
The Rupak drawings were scanned to produce the digital animation, where the white dot traces the movement of the beat. While the animation on its own seems deceptively simple, its complexity is revealed through the progression of the accompanying drawings, a six and a half-minute recording requiring eighty-eight separate movements. The artistic act of developing a visual notation for a musical tradition which has defied transcription is an ambitious one; Rupak pushes the limits of the image as a means of capturing sound, as well as bringing into question the pedagogical hierarchy of the musical tradition which insists on the continuation of a master-disciple tradition of training.
Lala Rukh: RUPAK, exhibition catalogue, Documenta 14, Athens and Kassel 2017.
Natasha Ginwala, ‘Lala Rukh’, in Documenta 14: Daybook, Munich 2017, unpaginated, page dated ‘18 June’.
Saira Ansari, ‘Lighting Fires’, in Everything we Do is Music, exhibition catalogue, The Drawing Room, London 2017, pp.71–103.
Nada Raza and Priyesh Mistry
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