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Rasheed Araeen Interview (Wasafiri)

Article relating to an individual, 2008
Published by: Wasafiri
Year published: 2008
Number of pages: 12

image of Rasheed Araeen Interview (Wasafiri)

One of the most substantial texts on the sculptor Rasheed Araeen appeared in Wasafiri, Volume 23, Number 1, Issue 53, spring 2008. The text (on pages 22 - 33) was an interview with Araeen conducted by Richard Dyer. Covering some eight pages, the feature was liberally illustrated with archival images of Araeen’s practice. The front cover of the issue featured an archival photograph of Rasheed Araeen, ‘Paki Bastard’: (Portrait of the Artist as A Black Person). 1977. Live event with slides and sound. First performed at Artists for Democracy. 31 July 1977.

The piece focusses on Araeen’s career as an artist, as well as his work in founding Third Text, well as discussing the artistic, cultural and social contexts in which Araeen worked.

The text was introduced (on page 22) with a biographical summary, as follows:

“Rasheed Araeen was born in 1935 in Karachi, Pakistan. Although he first trained as a civil engineer, he later began to work as an artist, first producing figurative work and then abstract painting. Restricted by attitudes to modernity in Pakistan, he moved to England in 1964 after a brief stay in Paris. A year later, he encountered the work of Anthony Caro which was a transformative experience for him and encouraged him to start making his own sculptures. Rather than producing sculpture based on traditional composition or pictorial structures, Araeen argued that ‘symmetrical configuration, rather than composition, should be the basis of a new sculpture’. Consequently, Aareen (sic) became a pioneer of Minimalist sculpture in Britain, although his contribution was largely unrecognised at the time. Aareen (sic) did not discover the New York school of American Minimalism until 1968 when a friend in Paris told him of the work of Sol LeWitt. It was at this time that he also began to devote himself full-time to art. In 1970, Aareen (sic) became increasingly politically active, joining both the Black Panthers (later re-named the Black Workers Movement) and Artists for Democracy. Later in the decade, he explored performance art, concentrating on political issues and identity politics. In 1978 he founded Black Phoenix, a magazine which dealt with radical contemporary art from the ‘Third World’. This was the precursor to Third Text magazine which he launched in 1987 and which is one of the leading academic journals of contemporary art and culture today.”

Within the conversation piece, Araeen is scornful of a number of the artists who have come to dominate the art world’s attention over recent years. The question was put to him that “You founded Third Text… the original subtitle being ‘Third World Perspectives on Contemporary Art and Culture’. Today the subtitle is ‘Critical Perspectives on Contemporary Art and Culture’. Could you explain  how this change of intent mirrors the changes in the perception of African, Caribbean and Asian artists in the West? I am thinking of course of the rise of members of the second and third generation such as Chris Ofili, Yinka Shonibare and Isaac Julien and the solidification of the reputation of some members of the first generation such as Anish Kapoor and Frank Bowling (recently elected as a Royal Academician after years of exile in New York where his work was well received).”

In part, Araeen responds with “Frank Bowling did struggle hard to reach this point, but I have no regard for the remaining. They are not important. They are successful like others who are very good at producing commodities for the market, and good luck to them. They are not alone but represent a class of ambition that leads people to join and serve the system, the very system that is now in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some of them actually end up with OBEs and MBEs and even places in the House of Lords.” Using the majestic plural, or the royal we, Araeen concludes this response with “We have nothing to do with them.”

Related people

»  Rasheed Araeen

Born, 1935 in Karachi, Pakistan