October 15—November 13, 2016
Ulterior is pleased to present Hello Stranger, a solo exhibition of works by Mala Iqbal featuring paintings and works on paper created by the artist between 2012 and 2016. The exhibition opens on Saturday, October 15 with a reception for the artist from 6 to 8 pm.
The works in the exhibition depict moments that seem to have been isolated from larger scenarios, the precise narrative of which is uncertain. The artist claims not to know the full background story of her protagonists, and the imagery reveals just one arrested moment of the mystery.
In her large-size work on paper titled Runners, 2016, five people are running away from the viewer. It’s not clear what they are running away from or what they hope to achieve by running. A left foot drawn at the left bottom corner invites the viewer to step into the painting and be a part of this drama, yet the backward-directed glance of the man on the left seems to repel further participation. In another large-scale work on paper, Unexpected Lake, 2015, two sets of legs to the right and the left place the viewer between two sitters as though in the midst of a conversation, all parties observing the sunset together. However, just as the viewer starts to grow comfortable with (and in) this scene, discomfort appears, as the companions you’ve been encouraged to join are in fact total strangers. This friction and tension with strangers informs many of Iqbal’s works on view in the exhibition. The scenarios they envision are both hospitable and a touch off-putting, the people depicted both individualized and unknowable.
Iqbal is a New York native as well as first-generation American, born to Pakistani and German parents. Although she was born in the Bronx and has spent most of her life in the five boroughs, as the daughter of immigrants she grew up navigating between three widely different cultures and four languages—Punjabi, Urdu, English, and German.
Iqbal’s paintings and works on paper are similarly wide-ranging and polyglot. They draw inspiration from diverse visual materials: nineteenth century American landscape painting, Indian miniatures, Japanese ukiyo-e, cartoons, graffiti, the covers of old science fiction paperbacks, and film noir. Landscapes have always been a fixture of her work, whether real, imaginary, Eastern, or Western. Different kinds of scenery—and different traditions of scenery—abut, merge, and crash into each other. Iqbal’s technique and use of color are equally mixed. A painting may be conventionally naturalistic, ornamental, cartoonlike, and outright psychedelic all at once. By intermingling different techniques and styles, she evokes half-known or unknown realms. This quality of “strangeness” in her paintings is key: the viewer not only encounters strangers in her landscapes but is a stranger him- or herself.
Mala Iqbal received a MFA from Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, RI in 1998 and a BFA from Columbia University, New York, in 1995. She is currently based in Queens. Recent exhibitions include: Be Home Here, Twelve Gates Arts, Philadelphia, PA (solo, 2016); Sheherzade’s Gift, Center for Book Arts, New York, NY (2016); and Interventions II, 257 State St, Hudson, NY (2015). Iqbal’s artist book, Be Home Here, self-published in 2014, is available locally at Printed Matter, Inc. in New York, Desert Island in Brooklyn, and also for sale at Amazon.com.