Argument from Silence

Seher Shah Pakistani-American

Not on view

Trained as an architect at the Rhode Island School of Design, Seher Shah has steadily maintained a print-making practice that occupies equal footing with her drawings. This portfolio of ten polymer photogravures, can be regarded as Shah’s most accomplished body of work in prints, bringing together her interest in architecture and the framing of space with a strong political subtext.

The subject is the Gandharan sculpture collection of the Government Museum and Art Gallery in Chandigarh, India. Shah has said, "I wanted to engage with this collection as I was drawn to the relationships between object and site, and to the complex legacy of the Gandhara[n] works." [1]

The history of the Government Museum and Art Gallery in Chandigarh (a city established in 1953 and designed by Shiv Dutt Sharma, Manmohan Nath Sharma, Pierre Jeanneret and Le Corbusier) dates to the Partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947, when the extensive holdings of the Lahore Museum (in what is now Lahore, Pakistan) was shared between India and Pakistan. Two newly created provinces in the Punjab divided the museum’s assets, with the part of the collection entrusted to India ultimately housed in the Government Museum and Art Gallery.

For Shah, the Gandharan objects evoke the scars and violence of Partition, a fraught period during which 15 million South Asians were displaced and more than one million were killed. Shah has also stated, "Many historical arguments and ideological ends have marked the Gandhara narrative over time, from violent and divisive colonial east-west binaries, to reductive Orientalist frameworks, and recent destructive nationalist and extremist rhetoric from Afghanistan, Pakistan and India."[2]

The portfolio, made at the Glasgow Print Studio under the guidance of the master printer Alistair Gow, is based on photographs made in collaboration with Randhir Singh. Photographed as they were displayed in the museum, the sculptures are framed in such a way to accentuate the negative spaces between them. Shah’s deeply visceral mark making in oil is intended to underscore the absences that exist in the display of historic objects in any major museum—the wounds and scars carried by objects disassociated from their original contexts, which often remain unnoticed by visitors.

The work’s title derives from a phrase Shah encountered in the 1984 Artforum essay "Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief: ‘Primitivism’ in Twentieth-Century Art at the Museum of Modern Art," by Thomas McEvilley. The phrase "argument from silence" is understood to be "an attempt to prove a negative," and in the context of history, it refers to an argument made in the absence of evidence.[3] For Shah, these Gandharan sculptures, standing silently in museum galleries, embody that "absent evidence" of erased and forgotten histories and their lingering, and mostly unacknowledged, traumas.

[1] Seher Shah. Seher Shah: Argument from Silence. Dubai: Green Art Gallery, 2019. Artist’s statement.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.

Argument from Silence, Seher Shah (Pakistani-American, born Karachi 1975), Polymer photogravures on Velin Arches paper (set of 10)

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Courtesy of Seher Shah and Green Art Gallery