Baseera Khan’s art is deeply informed by their own identity as a queer femme Muslim American of Indian, Afghani, and East African descent. Their multi-faceted practice encompasses sculpture, installation, collage, drawing, photography, 3D printing, textiles, and video art—so their Brooklyn studio has to be flexible.
The live-work space has also become something of a character in Khan’s art. In 2020, inspired in part by a COVID fever dream of friends visiting while Khan was ill, the artist filmed a pilot for a television show for the On Screen Series Residency at the Kitchen in New York, where the set replicated their apartment.
The Texas-born artist just opened their first solo show in Houston, at the Moody Center for the Arts, where the two-channel video of the completed pilot, titled By Faith, is now on view. Other works from the past five years are joined by a new commission of a classical Islamic arch, fabricated at monumental scale and featuring images of Khan’s body.
The artist also has an exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, through next month, that draws on the institution’s Islamic art collection, collaging together images of these works with photographic self-portraits.
Other highlights of that exhibitions include four reflective acrylic Chandelier sculptures that shimmer and spin like highbrow disco balls as they hang from the museum ceiling. Each piece features patterns based on Islamic Arab and South Asian textiles collected by Khan’s family.
The artist provides the soundtrack for the show, with songs from their new 19-track album I Am an Archive—which will have its debut live performance at the Brooklyn Museum on July 7.
In the galleries, the music plays through a sculpture with a built-in speaker. The acrylic, resin, and steel piece, inspired by the “S-curve” pose often found in statues of Hindu goddesses, is modeled after Khan’s body. It even features Khan’s actual hair, since it is topped with the long ponytail they cut in order to complete the work.
Artnet News spoke to Khan about the restorative powers of napping outside, a top secret commission that will be near Penn Station, and how their studio space keeps them grounded.
Can you send us a snap of the most indispensable item(s) in your studio and tell us why you can’t live without it?
The x-acto knives, scissors, and micro chisels is use to sculpt 3D-scanned sculptures and create collages are my most valuable tools. Scanner beds are a highly important piece of equipment in my practice as well. These image-based technologies capture concepts of both desire and surveillance.
What is a studio task on your agenda this week that you are most looking forward to?
Finishing a vector file for a mural I will paint in the Penn Station area.
What kind of atmosphere do you prefer when you work?
I like being alone when I am starting to think and brood over an idea and approach. By the time I’m in the process of either fabricating or hand-making an object, I am happy to be around people, or listen to music, or have the TV on in the background. I am currently watching Frasier on Hulu while vectorizing carpet designs for a wall mural.
Do you listen to music or podcasts, or do you prefer silence? Why?
I have to be in silence and oftentimes silence is not enough. I have to put sound-canceling headphones on to concentrate on writing, or searching for an image or “aha” moment.
Once again, just like making objects, once I know my path and I know how to do it, I can listen to music or listen to podcasts, or YouTube lectures. I am currently listening to the new Drake album—it’s weird!
Who are your favorite artists, curators, or other thinkers to follow on social media right now?
Ella Kruglyanskaya, artist and painter.
I love Ylinka Barrato, a curator who recently helped me complete my installation at the Moody Arts Center in Houston Texas, and who is now an independent curator. Carmen Hermo the curator of feminist art, who helped me install “I Am an Archive” at Brooklyn Museum. Lia Gangitano from Participant Inc., a truly complex thinker and curator. And my good friend KJ Freeman, a curator and dealer with an eye for up and coming talent, who runs Housing Gallery [in New York].
When you feel stuck while preparing for a show, what do you do to get unstuck?
I think about different forms of aesthetics other than traditional art canons.
I pray, and visit prayer halls and other forms of sanctuaries.
I sleep, preferable under the sun.
I workout—and love to train in sport endurance practices.
What trait do you most admire in a work of art?
It ability to resonate outside of the legacies of the art world.
What trait do you most despise?
Takers, laziness, envy, and shit talkers
What images or objects do you look at while you work?
What is the last exhibition you saw that made an impression on you and why?
Melvin “Grave” Guzman, CAVE, at Participant Inc. gallery [in New York]. It was a musical performance with ephemera, and it reminded me of being a kid and sneaking into a Nine Inch Nails concert back in Dallas, Texas.
What made you choose this particular studio over others?
The rent is too damn high, as they say, so I keep it tight and live and work at home in my apartment in Crown Heights, Heights. I do work with fabricators and travel a lot, so this style of studio works for me, for now. I am thinking about downsizing my living life, and renting a studio somewhere. Do ya’ll have any ideas?
Describe the space in three adjectives.
Bright, cozy, private.
How does the studio environment influence the way you work?
It keeps me grounded, and spiritual, it keeps me honest in my process, it reminds me of where I came from, and my loved ones, it reminds me of loss as well, so it’s a mix of good and bad. When I move to an actual studio one day, I can bring elements to keep this vibe free and flowing. I can’t wait.
“Baseera Khan: Weight on History” is on view at the Moody Center for the Arts, Rice University, 6100 Main Street, MS-480, Houston, Texas, June 3–August 27, 2022. It will travel to the Contemporary Arts Center, 44 East 6th Street, Cincinnati, Ohio, September 30, 2022–February 11, 2023.
“Baseera Khan: I Am an Archive” is on view at the Brooklyn Museum’s Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, 200 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, New York, October 1, 2021–July 10, 2022. Khan will perform music from the album of the same name at the museum on Thursday, July 7, 7 p.m.–8:30 p.m.
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