Risham Syed situates symbols of influence and the power of the past with those from contemporary Pakistani society, often creating ironic and provoking tableaux. Employing Victorian values instilled through her missionary schooling and from socio-cultural vestiges of the colonial past, Syed excavates the differences in class, gender, race and histories. The remains of cultural inheritance are examined to reveal the nature of their origins and their perceived authenticity in present day Pakistan. As disparate materials and symbols are juxtaposed in installations, paintings and drawings by the artist, they all share a unique resonance as plays of power. Whether sited in “Karakul”, a coveted sheepskin -- from which caps were made and worn by Jinnah, founding father of Pakistan, and now by those in the upper echelons is placed adjacent to the election symbol of the powerful Muslim League, the tiger. Centered within a Victorian salon-style installation including paintings, cross-stitch and vintage photographs, is a large silvery plush “Cushion” in a gilded frame evoking the cold comfort of a throne. Two upholstered Victorian chairs impart a theatrical milieu for the understanding and representation of nation-building with the artist’s version of Thomas Cole’s 19th century painting “Indians Viewing the Landscape”. White marble, the medium of choice for centuries for Greeks, Romans and Mughals, is the material for an elaborate fireplace in “Hearth” which strokes domesticity while cradling a blast off. The symbols of smoke, arms and fire have surfaced frequently in Syed’s works, and reflect the increased violence in Pakistan, and the will to tame the insurgency, yet another power play.
Risham Syed’s has been exhibited in Resemble/Reassemble at the Devi Art Foundation in Gurgaon, India. Her work has been exhibited at The National Gallery of Art, Islamabad, Pakistan (2007); in Playing with the loaded gun at Apex Art, New York, NY (2003) and Kunsthalle Fridericianum, Kassel, Germany (2004); 2nd Fukuoka Triennale, Museum of Asian Art, Fukuoka, Japan (2002); in Threads, Dreams and Desires at The Harris Museum, Preston, UK (2002); Royal College of Art (1996) and the Barbican Center Gallery (1995) . She was awarded the Cité International des Arts, Paris, France (1995) and the Charles Wallace Trust Scholarship, UK (1996). She received Bachelors in Painting from the National College of Art in Lahore (1993) and a Masters in Art from The Royal College of Art, London, UK in 1996. She is currently an Assistant Professor at the School of Visual Art, Beaconhouse National University, Lahore, Pakistan.