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Saleem Arif Quadri MBE

Born, 1949 in Hyderabad, India

Saleem Arif (or Saleem Arif Quadri as he has come to be known) is of that generation of primarily Caribbean and South Asian-born artists who are younger than the pioneering generation of Uzo Egonu, Rasheed Araeen and others, but significantly older than the younger generation of artists that included the likes of Keith Piper and Sutapa Biswas. Born in the Indian city of Hyderabad in 1949, some two years after that country’s independence, Arif came to the UK in his late teens. Within a few years he went to study sculpture at Birmingham College of Art, going on, a couple of years later, to study painting at the Royal College of Art, London. Arif is perhaps best known for producing beautiful, poetic interpretations of natural forms and animal/bird life, rendered in silhouette, in a restrained palette of flat areas of colours. He has been, for periods of time, a prolific artist whose work has been exhibited widely, as well as finding its way into a number of art collections.

Particularly noteworthy in this regard is the 2001 purchase by the Tate Collection of Arif’s Landscape of Longing, 1997-1999, a sizeable mixed media work on composite panel. Instantly recognisable as an Arif work, the piece features wall-mounted sections that have the appearance of something fragmented; something whole being pulled apart, or something fractured being uneasily or tentatively pushed back together. Such works perhaps speak of Arif’s dual training as first a sculptor and then a painter, as Landscape of Longing oscillates between the two-dimensional and the three dimensional, in the mind, or to the eyes, of the viewer. As Arif himself recalls, or explains on his website, “Since 1990, all my paintings have been on a versatile wood support, which stands half an inch away from the wall. This device articulates and enhances my new concepts of ‘volumetric’ and of ‘pregnant space’, as the paintings appear to float away from the wall surface, adding a third dimension to my pictorial language.”

For the most part, Landscape of Longing is rendered in a muted shade of white, though each of the shapes is emphasised or embellished by what at first glance resemble incomplete or tentative borders, rendered in quiet or subdued earthy shades of brown. Though somewhat abstracted, the work’s fragmented sections speak of nature, or of natural formations.

In 1983, Arif had a solo exhibition at the Midland Group, Nottingham. The venue was, at the time, (together with Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery) one of the leading Midlands venues for contemporary art. Within the exhibition, Arif explored his interest in Dante’s Inferno, the first part of Dante’s Divine Comedy, written by the Italian Dante Alighieri in the early 14th century. Whilst many of us have heard of, or might know of, Dante’s Inferno, Arif declared himself as having a pronounced interest in the allegorical work, which tells of the writer’s journey through the inferno, or hell shown the way by the Roman poet Virgil. In contrast to heaven above, in Dante’s Inferno, hell is represented as nine circles of suffering; hell located below, underneath, or within the earth. Within the epic poem that is the Divine Comedy, the central narrative represents the allegorical journey of man’s soul towards God. According to Rasheed Araeen, Arif’s interest in Dante’s Inferno was not simply an academic or disinterested one. “It is clear that Arif was preoccupied with the search for a cultural identity. During this time [circa late 1970s/early 1980s] he was also reading Dante’s Inferno and his research uncovered much evidence to support the growing notion that Dante must have known Islamic literature.” Araeen then goes on to quote from Arif’s exhibition catalogue for his Midland Group exhibition: “He [Arif] discovered documents showing that certain passages in the Divine Comedy are virtually direct quotes from Islamic tales. Fired by these inter-connections between east and west, past and present, Saleem was ever more determined to travel.” It was perhaps this perceived interplay, or exchange, between east and west that led to Arif being included in the important From Two Worlds exhibition held at the Whitechapel in 1986.

In the summer of 2008 Saleem Arif Quadri was honoured in the Queen’s Birthday Honours, receiving an MBE. As such, he was one of a growing number of visual artists of African, Caribbean or South Asian background to be similarly honoured for their endeavours and contributions.

His website is www.saleem-arif-quadri.co.uk

The Rasheed Araeen quote comes from the catalogue for The Other Story, an exhibition that featured Arif’s work.

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»  From Two Worlds - press release

Press release relating to an exhibition, 1986

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»  Cornerhouse

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»  Whitechapel Art Gallery

London, United Kingdom

»  Wolverhampton Art Gallery

Wolverhampton, United Kingdom