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  • Middle East Meets West in Worcester Art Museum Exhibition of Recent Paintings and Drawings By Ambreen Butt

    (WORCESTER, MASS., FEBRUARY 20, 2003) - Cultural tensions between her Middle-Eastern Muslim roots and contemporary American lifestyle infuse the art of Ambreen Butt, whose recent work is on exhibit at the Worcester Art Museum from March 1 through May 11.

    Butt, born in Pakistan in 1969, formally trained in traditional Persian and Indian miniature painting. A decade ago, she moved to Boston to study art from a contemporary American perspective. Since making that transition, her work has reflected and attempted to reconcile a stylistic and narrative gulf between her past and present cultures.

    “Amidst ongoing religious and political strife in the Middle East, and between Western non-Muslims and Islamic societies, there has been a noticeable increase in interest and support for contemporary art about this region of the world,” said Curator of Contemporary Art Susan L. Stoops, “and specifically for work by women of Butt's generation who address Islamic traditions and paradoxes in their art.”

    The solo exhibition, entitled I Must Utter What Comes to My Lips, features paintings and drawings from three recent series, including “Farewell,” “Home in the World,” and “I Must Utter What Comes to My Lips.” All of the pieces were completed within the last two years, and most will be exhibited for the first time at the Worcester Art Museum.

    Butt will visit the Worcester Art Museum to talk about her art and experiences at 7 p.m. on Thursday, March 27. The talk is free and open to the public, and a reception for the artist will follow. While Butt's subject matter is extremely personal, often self-portraits, and generated by memories, her paintings and drawings intentionally wrestle with broader issues of gender, power, intellectual freedom, human rights, and cultural stereotypes. Butt most often depicts herself, a contemporary female figure, with naturalistic detail, hovering in a field of Minimalist-inspired hairline stripes or dreamlike expanses. In the “Home and the World” series, Butt creates images of a dark-haired woman (herself) nestled in verdant foliage and often holding a vessel in her lap, hands, or on her head, as plants flourish, words cascade, or birds swirl and peck around her. In a drawing from “Farewell,” Butt depicts herself bound by serpents at her wrists and ankles to the trunk of a leafless tree whose branches have yielded not fruit but words-“desire,” “pleasure,” “lust,” “love,” “temptation,” “home,” “security,” and “shelter.” A provocative image from the series “I Must Utter What Comes to My Lips” features a slender bird falling from the sky. It's an apparent victim of guns shot by two females, each acting in the name of the symbol-an American flag and a Muslim prayer-on the scarf that blindfolds her.

    Butt takes two distinct approaches to traditional miniature techniques and forms. In two series “Home and the World” and “Farewell,” Butt constructs her images through layers of paper and translucent Mylar that incorporate elements of collage, watercolor, white gouache, and stitching. This layering process mirrors the complexity of Butt's personal identity and the cultural issues she addresses in her work. It is also a metaphor for the seamless accumulation of decisions and events of the past that go into shaping the present. Butt often incorporates text, including delicately handwritten Urdu script along with typed English translations, emphasizing keywords such as “humanity,” “uncertainty,” “self,” and “home.”

    Butt's third series, “I Must Utter What Comes to My Lips,” is painted on wasli, a handmade traditional paper. In these images, Butt uses a naturalistic miniature style and rich, saturated colors to directly respond to current world events and the uncontrollable nature of their impact on individual lives. Her technique echoes that of historic miniatures developed centuries ago in the Islamic courts of India that often resulted in a “stunning and violent realism.” But while the historic miniatures typically glorified the heroic adventures and accomplishments of the Mughul rulers, Butt's narratives offer neither heroes nor clear outcomes. Rather, they are dedicated to ordinary women and men who find themselves in the midst of the harsh reality of contemporary events.

    “This heightened explicitness is reinforced by the opacity of the painting and the firmness of Butt's mark making-its confidence, clarity, and fluidity.” said Stoops. “Butt protests against silence and indecision, and in her very own way, declares a ‘war against the madness around her.’”

    Butt received a B.F.A. in 1993 from the National College of Arts in Lahore, Pakistan, and a M.F.A. in 1997 from the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston. Since then, she has had solo exhibitions at the Bernard Toale Gallery, Boston, and the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston. She has participated in numerous group exhibitions at George Adams Gallery, New York City; the DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park, Lincoln, Mass.; India Center for Art and Culture, New York City; Newhouse Center for Contemporary Art, Staten Island, NY; and the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston. Recent honors include Artist-in-Residence at the McColl Center for Visual Arts in Charlotte, NC; Artist-in-Residence at Central Michigan State University in Mt. Pleasant, Mich.; Artist-in-Residence at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston; and the ICA Artist Prize from the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston. She is represented by the Bernard Toale Gallery, Boston.

    This project is supported by the Don and Mary Melville Contemporary Art Fund and a grant from the Artists' Resource Trust, a fund of the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation. The media sponsor is Worcester Magazine. Framing by Boston Frame.

    Museum Background

    A cultural jewel of New England, the Worcester Art Museum first opened to the public in 1898. Its exceptional 35,000-piece collection of paintings, sculpture, decorative arts, photography, prints and drawings is displayed in 36 galleries and spans 5,000 years of art and culture, ranging from Egyptian antiquities and Roman mosaics to Impressionist paintings and contemporary art. Its extensive four-season studio arts program enrolls 6,000 adult and youth students each year. Museum hours are Wednesday through Sunday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Thursday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. (sponsored by Commerce Bank), and Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission is $8 for adults, $6 for seniors and full-time college students with current ID, and FREE for Members and all youth 17 and under. Admission is also FREE for everyone on Saturday mornings, 10 a.m.-noon (sponsored by The TJX Companies and Massachusetts Electric Company). The Museum is located at 55 Salisbury St., Worcester, Mass., easily accessible from the Massachusetts Turnpike (I-90), Route 290 and Route 9. Expanded parking is available near entrances on Salisbury, Lancaster and Tuckerman streets. For more information, call (508) 799-4406.