New Exhibition Explores the Essence of Spiritual Sound
3 July 2017
What is it the essence of a spiritual sound? Tasawar Bashir, in collaboration with Brian Duffy, explores this intangible idea in a sculptural sound installation inspired by Qawwalis - the devotional music of the Sufis – in particular, the legendary Pakistani Qawwali singer, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.
Titled Dam Pani, meaning 'Blessed Water' in Urdu and Hindi, this installation combines sound, light and water to pay homage to the internationally renowned Pakistani Qawwali singer, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (1948-1997), celebrated for his vocal power and spiritual energy. Based on original research from his PhD research, Tasawar Bashir is currently writing the singer's official biography for Khan's record label, Oriental Star Agencies. In Dam Pani, Bashir explores Khan's legacy in a less tangible way, using abstraction to explore the essence of a spiritual Sufi experience.
Dan Pani is an installation comprising of sound being played through water to visualise patterns on the surface. Set in a darkened room, the water bowl sculpture is illuminated by a single blue spotlight, revealing the patterns resembling a cosmic soup. The otherworldly atmosphere and science-fiction aesthetic references the Sufi idea of using music to obliterate time and space, creating the experience of travelling through the cosmos.
Working with Brian Duffy, an experimental musician specialising in the mathematics of sound, Bashir sampled and repeated a single breathy utterance by Khan, "Hu", which is repeated over a 40 minute cycle. Taken from the exhibition title, "Dam", meaning breath, refers to a Sufi belief in the power of an exhalation, from the mythology of God creating man through breathing into clay, to the heelers who breathe on water as a holy blessing. By playing the sound of Khan's breath through the water, Bashir creates a sense that the water is blessed by Khan, or that Khan's spiritual energy could return from the cosmos. The installation creates an intense, meditative space that immerses the audience in both the sound and sight of Khan's energy.
Dam Pani uses abstracted forms to test what defines Qawwali and its spiritual essence, taking a seemingly scientific approach to exploring something as intangible as belief. It asks us question: is it still possible to have an emotional response to Qawwali if the text and format are unrecognisable? Removed from the context of a shrine, it asks, how can a Qawwali potentially transform a gallery space?
Dan Pani is exhibited alongside Bhairav, an exhibition by leading Indian artists, Nikhil Chopra and Munir Kabani. Set in the Goan landscape, Bhairav also explores spirituality through man's relationship with the earth and the passage of time, whilst reflecting upon colonial eras, past and present. Bhairav and Dam Pani are part of Here, There & Everywhere, supported through funding by Arts Council England and British Council as part of a national project, Reimagine India. Skinder Hundal, CEO of NAE explains the significance of showing Dam Pani on this significant historical year.
"We are proud to present the work of Tasawar Bashir in this symbolic reflective moment. His exhibition synchronise with the 70th year of India's independence and birth of Pakistan, as well as honouring the great Qawwali singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's 20 years anniversary of his death. Tasawar Bashir is a long term associate and academic in residence at New Art Exchange, and his work continually challenges systematic behaviours and traditions that quietly numb us into ways of being and seeing the world through a singular prism - Dam Pani is no exception."
Exhibition launch: Saturday 15 July, 6pm – 9pm
(6.30pm: Q&A with Tasawar Basir and Bhairav artists)
The exhibition runs until 24 September