Osman Yousefzada: What is Seen and What is Not

Osman Yousefzada

The V&A and the British Council jointly announce details on What is Seen and What is Not by inter-disciplinary artist Osman Yousefzada, opening 29th July at the V&A. This series of interventions responds to the 75th anniversary of Pakistan and explores themes of displacement, movement and migration.

The interventions across the museum have been commissioned by the British Council, in partnership with the V&A and the Pakistan High Commission as part of the British Council’s festival season ‘Pakistan/UK: New Perspective’.

Osman Yousefzada - What is Seen and What is Not

Osman’s work is a tripartite of site-specific works, and will bring together textiles, wrapped objects and a seating installation to showcase the rich variety of traditional and contemporary Pakistani craftsmanship. Together, the works present Osman’s unique and highly personal perspective on migratory experience and identity and offers a subtle and contemplative space to engage with objects and craft techniques rooted in the heritages of Pakistani culture. Working collaboratively with local craftsmen, Osman developed new techniques and stitches – working on non-traditional materials, which he compliments with painting, producing a body of work reflecting on shrines and ritualised spaces of transcendence.

Osman Yousefzada
Osman Yousefzada

Osman Yousefzada said: “It’s a great honour to be commissioned to reflect on the 75 years of Pakistan’s independence. What is Seen and What is Not offers a portrait of contemporary Pakistan, through a British diasporic lens as it attempts to reel away from colonial subjugation. However, it is still a casualty of neo-colonial structures, contributing less than 1% to green gas emissions and in return it is the 5th most vulnerable country to climate change, as rising temperatures result in great floods, and an eventual loss of the Himalayan ice reservoirs, causing tremendous displacement and a loss of homeland to its people.”

Director of the V&A, Tristram Hunt, said: “We are thrilled to curate these ambitious site-specific works by Osman Yousefzada, in partnership with The British Council, to mark the 75th anniversary of the foundation of Pakistan. What is Seen and What is Not is a commentary on the migratory experience, displacement and the effects of the climate crisis, while showcasing the ingenuity of Pakistani craftsmanship. Interventions such as this offer an opportunity to bring diaspora voices to the heart of the V&A, to be in conversation with the museum’s vast South Asia collection.”

Skinder Hundal MBE, Director Arts, British Council, said: “The British Council is proud to be working with Osman Yousefzada, the V&A and the Pakistan High Commission on What Is Seen and What Is Not as part of our Pakistan/ UK New Perspectives Season.

This project is an embodiment of what the British Council and Pakistan High Commission are setting out to achieve with the New Perspectives Season – creating a bridge between cultures, challenging perceptions, and opening up new narratives and channels of discourse between contemporary societies in Pakistan and the UK. As we mark the 75th anniversary of Pakistan, this work both acknowledges the important shared histories of our nations and creates space for new perspectives – I can’t wait to experience it!” Visitors to the V&A will first encounter Osman’s work at the Dome in the form of several large-scale textile banners depicting abstracted figures in motion.

Handcrafted using different dying techniques with woven surface decoration and metallic threads, the figures are suggestive ancient talismanic symbols. The works will invite contemplation on the complex riches of both sacred and secular histories of South Asian culture and today’s Pakistan’s identity.

Moving through the museum and into the sculpture galleries, a wooden structure evoking makeshift shrines found around South Asia, will showcase domestic-sized wrapped objects cast in glass, clay and wrapped in richly woven textile. Appearing to contain domestic items such as a pot or vessel, the objects evoke themes of migration and reflect upon how displaced people travel with treasured possessions, making the journey from place to place, country to country, necessitated by social, political, or economic upheaval.

Osman Yousefzada

For the final intervention, the John Madejeski Garden will be transformed into a space for communal contemplation, with a number of colourful charpai and mora stools, designed to be used, moved and enjoyed by visitors, reflecting themes of displacement. Each charpai – ubiquitous day beds found across South Asia – is handmade using different weaving techniques to celebrate the diversity of the textile heritage of Pakistan. At the centre of the Garden installation, visitors will encounter a wooden vessel, typically found in the mangroves of coastal Pakistan. Moored off water, the vessel symbolises the precarity of water-dependent communities and the erosion of natural environments at this moment of global climate crisis as well as colonial histories of exploitation.

What is Seen and What is Not is Osman’s first major solo exhibition in London, following the success of his 2018 exhibition at Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery. It will be a major focal point of the V&A’s contemporary Friday Late: My East is Your West taking place 29 July, which marks the 75th anniversary of Pakistan and India. The event includes a collaboration with Dialled In, a South Asian music festival by UK-
based collectives Daytimers, No ID, and Chalo. The Friday Late will bring together leading and emerging South Asian artists and designers for an evening of live performance, film, installation, debate, DJs and more.

©2022 Osman Yousefzada, V&A, British Council