Kristin Hjellegjerde

Muhammad Zeeshan: deMONSTERate

A bridled horse stands behind a trio of doorways; a tulip grows from a poppy seed; a woman applies lipstick within a window of colour; a hand holds the stem…


Event Details



Event Starts

Jul 11, 2024

Event Ends

Aug 17, 2024


Kristin Hjellegjerde


36 Tanner Street, London

A bridled horse stands behind a trio of doorways; a tulip grows from a poppy seed; a woman applies lipstick within a window of colour; a hand holds the stem of a plant sprouting two eyes. In his latest series of works, Pakistani artist Muhammad Zeeshan merges traditional miniature painting techniques with bold geometric patterns and symbolic imagery to reflect on themes around artificiality, censorship and freedom of expression. deMONSTERate, his solo exhibition at Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery, Tower Bridge, considers the ways in which human conflict, consumerism and contemporary culture continues to disrupt the natural balance of things.
deMONSTERate is a made-up word playing on and subverting the multiple meanings of ‘demonstrate’ – to show the existence or truth of something, or to take part in protest – to instead evoke the image of a monster consuming something (‘de-monster-ate’). This monster, Zeeshan explains, is humanity, ravenously devouring everything in its path and leaving behind an artificial existence, one which is so far disconnected from nature that we no longer have a sense of what is real. For Zeeshan, this artificiality is often epitomised by contemporary art spaces, particularly art fairs where works are presented to be photogenic and shareable. In other words, the superficial appearance of the art or booth display is valued more highly than the context or symbolism of the work.
At the same time, these spaces still provide artists with a platform to discuss difficult topics and voice dissent. It is that tension that Zeeshan is interested in: the points at which resistance and conformity meet. One painting, for instance, evokes a labyrinthine space with floating walls evoking the impermanent architecture of an art fair booth which has been painted hot pink, supposedly one of the most ‘Instagrammable’ colours. Within this no-place, two delicately painted, translucent images appear suspended like visions from a different world. On the left there is a Bengal tiger, a symbol of strength, power and wilderness, the untamed forces of nature, while on the right a plant sprouting two disembodied eyeballs reference historical depictions of Saint Lucy as a symbol of suffering and resistance. The contrast between these complex and ancient symbolisms and the superficiality of the space is highlighted by a feeling of incoherency or incompleteness: nothing quite fits together.
Another work depicts a horse that appears both too large for the surrounding space and too traditional in style for the contemporary setting and vivid, luminescent hues. The idea of artificiality is further highlighted by the tulip that appears to grow out of the horse’s stomach, sprouting unnaturally from a poppy seed. The same horse appears again as an outsider in another painting, lurking behind a spire-like shape that was inspired by the gates of a museum Zeeshan visited in Germany. Inside this shape there is a woman applying her lipstick. The image comes from the 1963 film Mahanagar (The Big City), which tells the story of a small-town girl who moves to the big city and has to adjust to a different way of life, which is perceived as being more exciting and cosmopolitan but also less connected to nature.
Significantly in all of the paintings we are followed by eyes. We look at the image and it looks back at us. How we are supposed to interpret this gaze is ambiguous – is the horse’s side-eye stare accusatory or searching? – but it has the effect of shifting the focus inwards, of inviting us to contemplate how we perceive and exist in the world and what impact that has on the wider picture.
For more information, visit Kristin Hjellegjerde