Shahper born in 1984 is Syed Sarvat Ali Jafri’s first given name. It means “the feather in the shah’s crown” a name that descends from his ancestral tradition and a lineage linking directly to the once glamourous Awadh Empire of the 17th Century. His city, Faizabad – meaning the “City of Gardens” in Persian – carries the scares of the lost glory where the magnificent gates stand crumbling among collapsing palaces, temples, mosques, boisterous souks and bazaars that continue to thrive alongside the disintegrating Persian style architectural wonders that once made the city a pearl of the east.
Faizabad despite its lost glory remains the inspiration for Syed Ali Jafri’s multifaceted artistic practice. He is one of a few contemporary artists residing in the city which is now home to 100 million people, many of whom are descendants of refugees from Punjab, Sind and others far off lands that came to settle in the flourishing city over the centuries.
The dramatic turning point for Faizabad came on December 6th, 1992 when Hindu Nationalists destroyed the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya – Faizabad, next door to the Artists’ centuries old family home. Syed Ali witnessed the riots and the ensuing bloodbath firsthand and has since lived through the subsequent rift and polarization this event caused within his community. The riots – and the politics that flared them – split the society like a surgical intervention separating the syncretic culture of Hindus and Muslims and turned neighbours into irreconcilable enemies, destined to live in proximity.
The political realities of caste, creed and unemployment are powerful forces of destruction chipping away at the few remnants of a common glorious past and is rewriting the city’s history. The pain of Faizabad – visible on the city’s decaying walls – is one Syed Ali shares with the abandoned structures of his town that mirror history. A city built on artistic practice, a tradition of poetry and philosophy is today, more than ever, demanding that its inhabitants address the existing reality. The political party of India triumph in May 2019 declared the Hindu Nationalist project a priority and thus once more reinvigorated religious hostilities that threaten to definitively erase spaces that maintain a collective future.
Syed Sarvat Ali Jafri believes that the only power at his disposal to confront the emerging political reality is Art. His personal space is a form of dissent that is optimistic and inlaid with aesthetics demanding to engage in peaceful communal conversation. Soliciting dialogue through visual scapes – which is essential to the Ganga- Jamuni tradition of Avadh – aims to mellow the schism of politics and community. He is adamant that the preservation of what is left of his culture is urgently needed and he has thus devised multiple innovative techniques, formats and conceptual principles to deal with local complexities.
EXHIBITION : Garden Of Remembrance
“Our minds view the world through the prisms of philosophies we believe in, mine is the wisdom of contesting conflict and bowing out of conflicts that define humanity today.” Syed Sarvat Ali Jafri
Syed Sarvat Ali Jafri draws on the contemporaneity of the syncretic Islamic visual culture that he inherited through his lineage that imbibed the visual elements of Hinduism and Sufism. He comes from a tradition of Shia poets who used poetry as a form of a narrative retelling of history and pain.
In this show he explores multiple artistic formats that together constitute the different aspects of the narrative of peaceful struggle against marginalization. His works conceptually replaces the loss of 17 century architecture in his city to urban chaos, politics and time. Accordingly, the Artist integrates architecture into his creative vocabulary through the vantage point of his familiarity with the ruins of Shia tombs, mosques, bazaars and city-gates that dot Faizabad.
‘Sajdagah’ or Turbah
Series of 18 Clay Tablets Sculptures
For local Shi’ite families scattered around the globe, the clay tablets known as ‘Sajdagah’ or “turbah” – meaning soil in Arabic – represent soil from Iraq’s Shi’ite Muslim Karbala shrine. They are a blessing, an object of remembrance, even a cure for sickness. The Karbala tablets or ‘Sajdagah’ are used during prayers by Shia Muslims worldwide. They embody the tradition of making shrines to Imam Ali and his family during the month of Mohurrum and incorporate symbols such as the Panjatan, Taziya and Taboot. Elements such as a water carrier, Hazrat Abbas’s hand etc..
The tablets provide certain metaphors of longing and restitution.
Syed Sarvat Ali Jafri innovated a technique whereby he crushes the clay used to envelope cement tiles and wood as a form of mortar to construct miniature shrines in ode to the lost architecture and culture of Faizabad.
18Sculpture Clay works
3 Metal wheels
15 water colour Urdu Calligraphy
Through Urdu alphabet, names and memories as well as Persian words that form a part of our local creole Syed Ali Jafri constructs poetic narratives of resistance drawing from a tradition of Persian and Urdu poetry which was once common in Faizabad.
Calligraphy writing being and ancient form of art allows the artist to reanimate through a conceptual practice the tenets of Islamic Visual Culture. Incorporating multiple aspects of his ancestral traditions is a form of pacifist dissent against the growing communalism that is rapidly overtaking Faizabad’s daily environment.
By Jihan El – Tahri