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Bani Abidi

Pakistani Contemporary Artist
Born 1971, Karachi, Pakistan
Lives and works between Berlin and Karachi, Pakistan

Bani Abidi is one of the most influential women artists from Pakistan. She’s works primarily in photographs, digital manipulation, graphic drawings, videos which are entirely focused on showcasing the political and cultural history of events between India and Pakistan. Her depiction lies in showcasing the similarities and differences among these nations and how the past and the present bring identity crises to people from both sides.



Master of Fine Arts, Art Institute Of Chicago, USA


Bachelor of Fine Arts, National College of Arts , Lahore, Pakistan

VIEW     Selected exhibitions     Text      Videos      Selected images      View all




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She uses multiple mediums to depict irony in her works

Photographs, installations, graphic drawings, and video installations are the primary mediums she works on. The images she uses are a provocative mix of fact and fiction, achieved through digital manipulation. The manner in which she uses photographs portrays her ironic mockery of the nation's conflicts. From the beginning of her career her creations suggest that she has a strong grip over her subject.

Shan Pipe Band is a 7 and half minute video, showing Pakistan's relationship with the United States of America in contemporary times. A group of musicians in Lahore playing oboe, clarinet, bagpipes, and drums are shown learning the U.S. national anthem by heart. Interestingly, despite their abilities the band comes nowhere near to mastering the tune.

Another 8 minute video installation titled Reserved, is a full movie where the whole city waits for a nameless VIP, who comically and poignantly never arrives. Small children dressed in school uniform and carrying small flags, a variety of dignitaries, anxiously chatting and waiting outside the legislative house can be seen in the video.

Bani Abidi, Shan Pipe Band Learns the Star Spangled Banner, 2004, video still

Bani Abidi, Reserved, 2006

Interplay of Power and Authority

The most recent exhibition of hers held in Kolkata, called “Then It Was Moulded Anew”, was a self-conscious act on her part of constructing a historical narrative that depicts contemporary South Asian politics. It comprised of three projects examining the relationship between power and cultural production, knowingly manipulating the political and historical depiction, influencing the delicate threads of social life.

Power and authority, seems to be an eternal quest for the artist as, she is intensely influenced by the environment of her country, and its relations with other nations. She gives a visual vocabulary to these concepts. Having lived in a country where the forces of class, caste and feudalism define most social relations, Abidi’s works reflect these complexities through a sense of poignant satire.

The most interesting works of this exhibition were Death at a 30 Degree Angle, a fictional video based on monumental sculptor Ram Sutra and Proposal for a Man in the Sea, a photographic installation, on the same. The video is about questioning the monumental standing of history changers who later faced ridicule, and subject to historical criticism. The photographic installation gives us an understanding about the life of Ram Sutra, and it draws on photos of Sutra’s studio and primary documents that span South Asia’s modern history.

Bani Abidi, Death at 360 Degree Angle, 2012

Bani Abidi, Death at 360 Degree Angle, 2012

Her interest lies in creating works that border between truth and fiction

Her works are based on past events which have marked a significant historical change and influenced the successive generations. They are imbued with the history of her country through which she reminds her viewers that any revival of the past is full of loopholes.

The final work in an exhibition titled “A Table Wide Country”, is about toy soldiers. Her fascination, with miniature toy soldiers and civilian objects is to substitute them in roles relating to real life conflicts and war scenes. Through them she attempted to reflect real life trauma.

Bani Abidi, The Distance From Here, 2010, video still

Bani Abidi, 1/35 Scale, from “A Table Wide Country”, c-prints mounted on alu-dibond, 16 x 12" (each)

Abidi's practice is centered on video art

Bani Abidi is one of Pakistan's leading video artists today. She's among the few women artists who actively engage in exploring video artists. Issues of identity crisis and societal transformation over the years, and the dilemma and influence of major historical events among nations are the primary subjects in her artworks. Her works are subtle yet evocative, in a way asking the viewer to question their social standing about what was done, what has been done and what will be done. For instance, in a series of three videos called 'Mango', 'News' and 'Anthem' she explores the tension, similarity and conflict between India and Pakistan. By portraying herself as the protagonist, Abidi depicts the problematic relationship between these two countries in an ironic way.

In her first video (2001) Mango, she plays a double role of a Pakistani as well as an Indian girl at the same time. She shows both the girls conversing with each other about the different types of mangoes and its qualities. The amicable discussion soon degenerates into an argument, in a way depicting the inherent conflict between the two nations.

The video Anthem (2001), deals with similar issues depicting what caused the conflict between nations, urging people to ponder about humanity rather than argue over national identities. Interestingly, in this video, a stereo war becomes a border incident. A girl is shown dancing to an upbeat pop song, with an inanely nationalist chorus. A vertically split screen separates her from what appears to be her twin sister to the left who is dancing to a different tune (in all three films, the artist herself plays both parts). They both keep cranking up the volume, in an attempt to drown each other out, in an apt allegory of differences arising despite similarities.

Bani Abidi, Mangoes, 2000, video still

Bani Abidi, Anthem, 2000, video still