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Twelve Gates: Contemporary art from India and Pakistan–in Philadelphia


In the swarm of art from around the world, Philadelphia has remained markedly regional in what its galleries show. But a new gallery specializing in South Asian contemporary art recently opened.

The first exhibit at Twelve Gates, located right next to Snyderman, features work (until June 27) by four artists who have been influenced by the Eastern traditions of miniature paintings, as well as more Pop-inspired work from a fifth–New York artist Asma Shikoh, who is a Pakistan native.

Kausar Iqbal, untitled, watercolor on wasli
Kausar Iqbal, untitled, watercolor on wasli

Pakistani artists Kausar Iqbal and Asif Ahmed adapt traditional miniature techniques and taste in works that confront contemporary, sometimes political issues. Their works are elegant and controlled–and questioning.

Kausar Iqbal, untitled, watercolor on wasli
Asma Ahmed Shikoh, Van Wyck Blvd 2006, Pen & Acrylic on paper on canvas, 48″ x 36″

The politics shout loud and clear in paintings by Shikoh. Here most interesting piece here is Van Wyck Blvd, a large map of the New York City subways labeled in Urdu script. The juxtaposition of the ancient script with the schematic map we’re all used to seeing on subways, including details of the key, with its dots, schedules and other information, all in Urdu, immediately communicates that it’s more than language that gets lost in translation from culture to culture. Although the painting’s visual roots are in Pop, there’s nothing ironic in this map. It’s an earnest effort to get a grasp on something elusive and unfamiliar.

Partha Roy, untitled 2008, Pastel and ink on paper, 27" x 19"
Partha Roy, untitled 2008, Pastel and ink on paper, 27″ x 19″

The self-taught artist Partha Roy, who is deaf and mute, is another good reason to visit this gallery. His charming paintings and drawings portray a dreamy world that defies the rules for up and down, where mysterious events, people and creatures float inside watery portholes–intense visions of places separated by moats and rings from the more familiar imagery that edge the works. Also showing is work by Indian artist Jayant Naskar, moody, surreal prints with a retro Western look.

Movie screening

Expanding its efforts of getting beyond the 2D image of what we know about Pakistan, the gallery will be screening a movie,  Kashf: The Lifting of the Veil, which was included at the Santa Fe Film Festival. The film, which has to do with Sufism (i.e. not your Taliban version of Islam) and a young man’s search on his return to Pakistan for meaning in life, will show July 9, 10 and 11 at 7 p.m. Advance tickets are available by calling the gallery at: (267) 519 2737 or online at Here’s an interview with the filmmaker on YouTube. Her name is Ayesha Khan.

Coincidentally, the gallerist  is Aisha Zia Khan. She  is moving to Philadelphia any day now from Trenton, but she is originally from Pakistan.

The next show in this gallery, whose name refers to the gates permitting entry to ancient walled cities, will feature more work from South Asian artists, and in August, look for work from American artist, Bryce LeVan Cushing and from Michael Maier of Barcelona.