As part of the Yorkshire Festival, artist Imran Qureshi has turned two corners of Bradford parks into works of art. Sarah Freeman met him.
Charged with creating a large art installation in a city park, Imran Qureshi was prepared for the obvious difficulties. The Pakistani artist arrived in Bradford a few weeks ago to begin work on Garden within a Garden. Painting directly on paving stones surrounding the fountains at Cartwright Hall, he knew he had to allow enough time in his calendar to take account of any inclement Yorkshire weather. He’d also had the entire area carefully cordoned off to ensure no one trod on the wet paint. What he wasn’t prepared for was the reaction of one young lad who spotted the work in progress.
“He shouted over to me: ‘Hey, mister, why are you littering?’” laughs Qureshi, who is part-way through the painting when we meet. “I guess it’s nice to see that people are protective of the place, but before there was any trouble a security guard explained what I was doing.”
There is a similar work in Bradford’s City Park and both are inspired by a largely forgotten section of the British Army who fought in the First World War. The British Raj enlisted a huge number of Sikh, Muslim and Hindu soldiers to serve on the Western Front, but when the conflict ended and the world was desperate to step out of the shadow of war, their role was whitewashed out of history. “It’s not just in this country that people think the only people to fight in the trenches were white, working class men from Britain,” says Qureshi. “I thought that too. That’s what I was taught at school. In fact, the British Indian Army was a million-strong. They found themselves in a hostile climate in a distant land and that’s what I really wanted to explore.”
Qureshi has created Garden within a Garden at a number of different locations across the world. Often the work uses large splashes of red paint, but in Bradford he is using a black and white palette.
“Our memory of major wars is written in black and white and the photographs of those conflicts years ago are in black and white, so it seems to work. I don’t set out with an exact design of how the work will look,” he says. “I think it’s important that you respond to the space. In many ways, Cartwright Hall is the most challenging blank canvas I’ve worked on for this particular piece. The paving stones are less uniform than in other places and there are various water features running through it, which I want to feel part of the whole. I haven’t yet decided to bring out the red paint. I know people will maybe expect it, but I want it to feel right for the space.”
From a few feet away, Qureshi’s work looks like someone has either liberally splattered the paving stones with black paint or daubed them with charcoal. However, close-up the detail is clear. Using the ancient techniques associated with Indian painting, the designs on each of the paving stones contain small flowers and leaves. It is incredibly intricate and alongside the fountains his work looks more like running water than acrylic paint.
“Previously I have painted every single block in the section, but I have decided to do it a little different this time,” he says, referring to the fact that some sections have been left deliberately blank and the design looks more like an unfinished jigsaw puzzle. “For me that’s how memory works. There are some images, some events which stick in your mind and which will pop up again and again, taking on different meanings each time.”
Qureshi has been working for up to 12 hours a day on the installations, which will form part of this year’s Yorkshire Festival. Some artists would have employed a team of painters to bring their vision to life, but he prefers to operate as a one-man band, altering and adapting the piece as he goes along.
Garden within a Garden, Cartwright Hall and City Park, Bradford, to July 3. Entry is free.