Covert War and Cultures Colliding

The Imperial War Museum is holding the first UK solo exhibition by US/Pakistani artist, Mahwish Chishty, featuring works from her fascinating Drone Art series.

Chishty combines decorative Pakistani folk art with silhouettes of US military unmanned aerial vehicles to comment on the ongoing presence of foreign drones in north-west Pakistan, and the influence of these operations on the cultural and psychological environment of the region. Trained in Lahore in the tradition of miniature painting- Chishty’s art is both menacing and beautiful. It borrows from particular local visual traditions, including Pakistani truck art. The exhibition contains fine gouache paintings on tea-stained paper, sculptural paintings that protrude from the walls, and suspended model drones.

Chishty’s work raises questions about the aestheticisation of war by artists, and the challenges of visualising contested and secretive military operations. The question of how artists represent and comment on covert war is the topic of a panel discussion being held alongside the exhibition. Talks will be given by three speakers- including Chishty, photographic artist, Lisa Barnard, and contemporary art researcher, Clare Carolin. Chishty will speak about her personal motivations for creating the Drone Art series of works, and how the series is informed by her research into this controversial aspect of global conflict.

Lisa Barnard’s photographic and film practice examines the relationship between the military industrial complex, new technological innovations that utilise the screen and the psychological implication of conflict. She is Senior Lecturer on BA Documentary Photography at The University of South Wales. Her Whiplash Transition project presents ongoing research into remotely piloted aircraft, and the pilots who operate them from the Creech Air Force Base near Las Vegas. Barnard’s website explains the title of the series:

"‘Whiplash Transition’ denotes the journey of mind and body from being a ‘football dad’ at home to being ‘in the zone’- that is, physically operating a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) at a military base to follow or destroy targets abroad."

Both series of works by Chishty and Barnard depict worlds colliding as a result of drone operations- be that a meeting of cultures or of private and military spheres.

Meanwhile Clare Carolin is a Doctoral Student in Contemporary Art and Theory at the Ruskin School of Art and The Queen’s College, Oxford. She is an Associate Lecturer at Sotheby’s Institute and Associate Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design, Manila. Her interest in the viewer’s experience of works that combine horror and beauty will frame her response to Chishty’s exhibition and Lisa Barnard’s presentation.


A question and discussion session with the panel of speakers will follow short presentations by all three. This will be a free event at IWM London, held on Thursday 20 October 2016 (from 2-3.30pm). To book a place, please email: [email protected].

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