Mariam Suhail was raised in Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital city, and currently resides in Bengaluru, the information technology capital of Southern India. Her practice explores the architecture of individual memory, while also detecting contours of social memory and everyday ironies across the built environment. Through drawing, sculpture, book-based works, and video, Suhail thus weaves together the whispered tales of cities, cultures of cinema, and the notion of home as a partial space—at times physically left behind and yet at other times resurfacing as a sublime state of elsewhere.
Her protagonists are often reminiscent of the exaggerated characters plotted in the storyboards of Bollywood films and Pakistani dramas that are so popular in both India and Pakistan. Yet Suhail’s storyline is determined to recount and trace the “ordinary” individual through gesture, roleplaying, and spatial composition. In referencing such archetypes as the handbook, the technical manual, school textbooks, and the storyboard, she subverts the realm of didactic narration by layering it with imaginative and humorous tellings, at times adopting the posture of an “unreliable narrator.”
In her recent series of works, such as Erring Hippodamus (2013), Suhail excavates the conflation of a geologic imaginary with the complex poetics of urban development. In this example she investigates the master plans that shadow one another in the grid layouts of Hippodamus of Miletus, the ancient Greek urban planner and polymath. Here she compares such imperial capitals as the ancient city of Sirkap, built by the Greeks in Punjab, to the postindependence capital city of Islamabad. Curiously, both cities were constructed on the same geological fault line. In Suhail’s work, the grid recurs in the form of graph paper and a maze of city intersections, where the artist marks out failed acts in transcribing built forms. This ironic take reveals broader aspects of faltering infrastructure and totalitarian planning that surround informal lives throughout the present-day metropolis. The line and square remain conversant in Suhail’s practice, yielding to her playful instructions that narrate the civic space in formations of subjective experience.