Asim Butt

Asim Butt (born 26 March 1978) is a Pakistani painter and sculptor, with an interest in graffiti and print making.He is a member of the Stuckist art movement.

Life and work:

Asim Butt was born in Karachi. He attended Li Po Chun United World College. He started painting at an early age, but at his parents' insistence, went to college, where he studied Social Sciences from the Lahore University of Management Sciences. He began a Ph.D. in History at UC Davis in California, but left the course after two years, when he participated in a group show mounted at the San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery in March 2002 with Rigo '02 and LYRIC. He then returned to enroll in a B.F.A. in Painting in Karachi.

He participated in group shows in Karachi and Lahore, and in 2003 painted two murals in the environs of the shrine to the 8th Century Sufi saint Abdullah Shah Ghazi. This is an area visited by many people each day and also home to many of Karachi's homeless, including beggars, transsexuals and drug addicts. One mural, about America's Shock and Awe campaign in Iraq, was called , 5 Ways to Kill a Man,[4] inspired by Edwin Brock's poem. The other was about glue-sniffing children he encountered, while painting the first mural. Both murals were later whitewashed by city authorities.

In 2005, Butt founded the Karachi chapter of the Stuckist art movement.That year he did three interactive performative pieces one of which sought to claim the Mohatta Palace Museum as a lived space, resulting in his being banned from it. In 2006, he graduated from the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture, Karachi. In 2007, he participated in group shows, 13 Satellites (Lahore), Emerging Talent (Karachi) and Sohni Dharti, part of the Shanaakht festival at the Karachi Arts Council.

He spoke out against the imposition of emergency regulations in November 2007 by starting an "art protest" movement—spray-stencilling graffiti of an "eject" symbol of a red triangle over a red rectangle, an image which has now become widespread in Karachi.Butt said it was a representation to: “ eject the military from the presidency. The sign could also be a red house (parliament dominated by the left) or simply a curious shape that reappeared in different parts of the city around the time of the emergency.”

He was caught on two occasions and claimed it was school art project work.He says that people's dignity has been overtaken by the predominant social and economic power of the military.

He lives lives in Karachi's affluent Defence Housing Authority neighbourhood with his parents.

His Painting:

Asim Butt is a subversive South Asian artist who paints, sculpts, and has an interest in graffiti and printmaking. He got his first degree in Social Sciences from the Lahore University of Management Sciences upon his parents’ insistence and says that in retrospect he does not regret it because it gave him analytical skills and exposure to a wide range of literature most art students never have the chance to dissect. He then went on to do his Ph.D. in History at UC Davis in California but abandoned that course of study two years into it to enroll in a B.F.A. in Painting in Karachi. This allowed him to finally pursue the degree he had wanted since he left the Li Po Chun United World College where he had thrown himself into painting at the age of 16.
Since he has been back in his home town, he has participated in group shows in Karachi and Lahore and painted two murals in the environs of the shrine to the eighth-century Sufi saint Abdullah Shah Ghazi. The mazaar is visited by scores of people each day and the footpaths around it home to many of Karachi’s homeless, including beggars, transsexuals and drug addicts. While the first mural titled “5 Ways to Kill a Man” inspired by Edwin Brock’s poem of the same title was about America’s Shock and Awe campaign in Iraq, the second was about the glue-sniffing children Butt encountered while painting “5 Ways”. This gave the artist the opportunity to engage in hundreds of conversations about war and drug use as well as giving him insight into the visual perception of the most disadvantaged groups of society in a country where public art is limited to martial monuments. Both murals have since been whitewashed by city authorities.
Butt is a card-carrying member of the anti-Dadaist Stuckist movement begun in England. He also writes art criticism for various Pakistani publications.
Last year he held an open studio where he showed recent work as well never-before shown work from 11 years ago when he first began painting in oils. Following this, he did three interactive performative pieces one of which sought to claim the museum as a lived space, getting him banned from the Mohatta Palace Museum. He hung up his degree show in November 2006, graduating with a distinction from the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture.He can be reached at asimicus@hotmail.com, asimicus@gmail.com, karachistuckists@gmail.com

This is why Asim has undertaken bold strides during the last 10 enriching years of painting. In the meantime, he also earned a degree or two in social sciences, a half-finished PhD at the University of California and formal training from Karachi’s Indus Valley school of Art and Architecture

Art education in Pakistan, despite its deep- seated tradition of experimentation, does not allow the full exploration of originality. This is why the revival of miniatures has become another soft tool of marketisation and an out-of-wedlock union between art and commercialism. Rejecting what is on the horizon of Pakistani art, Asim Butt has stuck to his innate traumas and nightmares, sometimes indulging them, at others softening them with figures that blend the sensuous with the spiritual and the political with the existential.

That his early works display a cracked sense of the self is not surprising. A rebel from his conventional background, Butt continues to defy the conformist meanings of family, career, security, sexuality and that elusive bourgeois pursuit of happiness. Inspired by the Stuckism movement of art, Asim holds painting as a powerful medium of communication. This standpoint brings our young Pakistani Stuckist at odds with the skin-deep novelty and claimed nihilism of “conceptual” art and postmodernism. The pursuit of art in this worldview thus merges into an impulse for a renewal of spiritual values in art and society, or what is known as “re-modernism.” In Asim’s own words:

“After the century-long assault on Beauty, an ideal obliterated by historical cataclysms such as the two World Wars and art movements reacting to them, I feel that it is perhaps time to re-imagine an Arcadia - fraught with Postmodern indeterminacy as it may be. In painting towards a new Beauty, it is not a neo-Romantic impulse of retreating into an idyll that I nurture. For art made today cannot be embarrassed of engaging the complexity of the historical moment of a globalizing multicultural society. Instead it is a tension between representing a shifting reality and an ideal beauty, or seen another way, between the social and emotional truths I experience and the tricks of illusion used to convey them that I seek to keep alive.”

ince his return to Karachi in 2002, Asim has been both an introspective muse with bouts of self-doubt as well as a public art proponent. In 2003, he painted two murals outside the eighth century Sufi Abdullah Shah Ghazi. Not unlike the shrines of South Asia, Ghazi’s living Khanqah is a refuge for the under-class and the “scum” of the bourgeois society. The first mural, that consumed Asim like a mystic’s fire of love, was chillingly entitled, “5 Ways to Kill a Man,” and was based on the Iraq war; the second was about street children, particularly the glue-sniffing urchins with whom Asim engaged while painting the first mural. Quite symbolically, both the murals were, in due course, erased by the orthodoxy of municipal action.

Asim could very well be making up for the anguish that he feels about commercialism and isolation of “studio art” from the sociability and performativity of public art. During the forays into street narratives, the Asim we knew was undergoing a transformation. A kind of inner path that was meandering and yet achieving definition. Faced with intractable personal relationships, Asim found a direction in this public exposition of art and its magic. In 2005, the Karachi chapter of the Stuckist art movement was created by Asim.

Here was a twenty-something artist, working outside the boundaries of the hierarchy and patronage of the global art scene, in Pakistan no less. And therefore he invited a good measure of skepticism and muted resistance. This was reflected in his being banned from the Mohatta Palace Museum for one of his three interactive performative pieces which sought to claim the museum as a lived space.

Following his graduation from the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture, Karachi in 2006, Asim has participated in various group shows across the country. By this time Asim was not the run-of-the-mill individual attempting to engineer a debut within the confines of collectors and galleries. A larger-than-art vision had taken root and it was to display itself in the tumult of 2007’s political events.

Perhaps the resistance against the imposition of emergency in November 2007 offered a moment that took Asim to another level of Stuckism. Asim led an “art protest” movement, symbolised by the “eject” signs indicating the civilian struggles for the correction of civil-military imbalances. The project involved cutting a stencil out of stiff paper and spray-painting the stencilled symbol on to whatever surface was most appropriate. He also instructed his fellow protestors on how to cut stencils and use them to paint.

For those tense months of November and onwards, Karachi witnessed the number “420? repeated to create large arrows at the Supreme Court, Karachi Bench; or the “Stop” signs on torched cars and gutted banks after Benazir Bhutto’s assassination. There is a good body of temporary public art to Asim’s credit: a mural done at the San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery reacting to the US “War on Terror,” another in Mumbai, one found on the walls of The Second Floor Café, Karachi, and what he calls a “scribble” at an Akharra in Lahore.

Asim’s recent art activism on the streets of Karachi, however, has not impeded his expansion as a studio artist. If anything, engagement with the political has provided further layers to the textual life of his studio art.

There is now a deeper penetration of the political into the personal, thereby detaching and undoing the existential from the hazards of nihilism. The lines are less anguished and more controlled; and the medium of oil on canvas acquires political tones conversing with the inner apparitions of the artist.

The problem with Asim and many others is not that they are shy of experimentation into new zones of art and existence. Their tragedy is that they live in a society that has yet to begin its search for identity; and turn the internal chaotic dynamic into a more conducive space for creativity. That said, the tremors generated by Pakistan’s fault lines also offer a near ideal arena for making a statement, both personal and political.




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