Critics’ Picks

View of “Altered Inheritances: Home Is a Foreign Place,” 2019.

View of “Altered Inheritances: Home Is a Foreign Place,” 2019.


Shilpa Gupta and Zarina

Ishara Art Foundation
A3, Alserkal Avenue, 17th Street, Al Quoz
March 18–July 13, 2019

“Speak, your lips are free / Speak, it is your own tongue / Speak, it is your own body / Speak, your life is still yours,” opens “Speak,” Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s 1941 poem. The Pakistani poet’s yearning for a voice amid oppression and unsettlement is felt in the works of Shilpa Gupta and Zarina in their two-person show, “Altered Inheritances: Home Is a Foreign Place.” Born four decades apart in India, the artists riff on drift and belonging; the floor plan of Zarina’s childhood home in Aligarh—before her family’s traumatic move to Pakistan after the Partition—inspired the exhibition space’s layout of six rooms and a courtyard (the show was curated by Nada Raza). The wistfulness of this approach curdles into distress when considering Dubai’s robust South Asian population, much of which, lured by the promise of opportunity, makes up the wealthy city’s immense precariat class.

The show’s namesake, Gupta’s split-photography suite “Altered Inheritances - 100 (Last Name) Stories,” 2014, traces the lives of those who found solace in changing their last names in attempts to assume new identities or detach from former ones (the subjects range from survivors of brutal political turmoil to Bob Dylan). Gupta also slices pictures of intimate interiors, black-and-white family photos, and blue skies in two and rearranges them to orchestrate linear waves of images freed from halves and pasts. Akin to floating memories, they bleed into one another yet resist homogeneity. A flock of five hundred tin bits, each hand-molded and punctured with the same geometric form, Zarina’s wall-encompassing installation Crawling House, 1994, recalls migrating birds—or thrown razors attempting to collapse the concrete surface. Zarina equally conveys peace and unrest, prompting vigilance and serenity through poetic formation.