- Seher Shah born 1975
- 10 photo-etchings on paper
- Image, each: 417 × 315 mm
image: 416 × 558 mm
- Purchased with funds provided by the South Asia Acquisitions Committee 2021
Argument from Silence 2019 comprises ten polymer photogravures on paper, an intaglio printing process that allows for the printing of a photographic image through ink rather than light exposure. All the prints are displayed together. They engage with the contested history of the ancient region of Gandhara in what was then the Indian subcontinent. At the centre of each image are sculptures or fragments of Gandhara art. Broken limbs and body-less heads of Buddha and Bodhisattvas are perched on museum plinths and supports. Thin white cracks and thick smudges of ink are integrated into the photo-based images and suggest the complex history and significance of these sculptures.
Gandhara was located at the confluence of present-day Afghanistan and Pakistan and was a centre of Greco-Buddhism between the 1st century BCE and the 7th century CE. Its history has been celebrated and distorted over time by Orientalist scholars, and many of its objects disputed at the Partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. The Gandhara sculptures featured in Argument from Silence are housed in the Government Museum and Art Gallery in Chandigarh, India – the modernist, utopian city designed in the 1950s by the Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier (1887–1965), as well as Indian and other foreign architects – after Lahore, the capital of undivided Punjab, became part of Pakistan.
Shah studied at the Rhode Island School of Design and has explained that as a student of architecture she was taught European Renaissance perspective drawing. She has since turned to different forms of representation that borrow from various Asian sources and could be considered anti-perspectival. In the case of Argument from Silence, the photogravured images focus as much the spaces between the sculptures in the Chandigarh museum display as on the works of art themselves. For Shah, these spaces highlight ‘the fragile nature of the objects within the museum interiors’ (Seher Shah in conversation with Devika Singh, in Homelands: Art from Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge 2019, p.69), while the work as a whole symbolises the ‘ruptures and underlying violence in relationships between objects, history, and architecture’ (email correspondence with Tate curator Devika Singh, September 2019).
The title derives from a phrase in an essay by the critic Thomas McEvilley, published in Artforum in 1984, entitled ‘Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief: “Primitivism” in Twentieth-Century Art at the Museum of Modern Art’. In this article, the phrase ‘argument from silence’ is understood as ‘an attempt to prove a negative’, in the absence of concrete evidence (Seher Shah, ‘Artist Statement’, in Seher Shah: Argument from Silence, Green Art Gallery, Dubai 2019). For Shah, the fragmented and marked Gandhara sculptures represent the collective traumas of often forgotten or unspoken histories.
The photogravures were made under the guidance of Alistair Gow at the Glasgow Print Studio in an edition of twenty. Tate’s copies are number three in the edition.
Homelands: Art from Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, exhibition catalogue, Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge 2019.
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