Bilal Aquil
Reign of the Shah
Bilal Aquil
Opens Wed, 18 May - 7pm
Runs until 15 June, 2011
Traffic, Gallery II & III

In his exhibition, ‘Reign of the Shah,’ inspired by the ‘Shahnameh’ (“The Book of Kings”), Bilal Aquil narrates the story of the assassination of a Shah of the Imperial Court and the subsequent battles that follow to avenge his death and establish the power of the new Shah. Aquil presents a series of paintings where he merges Persian miniatures from the ‘Shahnameh’ with Francisco de Goya’s ‘The Disasters of War,’ ‘The Second of May 1808’ and ‘The Third of May 1808’ paintings, depicting a battlefield between East and West.

Aquil’s work is inspired by a long-time interest in Persian and Mughal miniatures following his extensive study of Islamic art and architecture. He draws on inspiration from the elaborately illustrated Persian manuscript, the ‘Shahnameh,’ that tells the story of Iran through the seventh-century Arab/Islamic conquest of the Sassanid dynasty. Written by Persian poet Ferdowsi, the ‘Shahnameh’ preserves the identity of Persian culture, with epics of love, war, battles and kingship. The ‘Shahnameh’ was produced for Shah Ismail (1487-1524), the first Safavid Shah of Iran, and his son Shah Tahmasp (1514-1576). Aquil adapts the spirit of these stories by juxtaposing Persian miniatures from the ‘Shahnameh’ battle scenes with figures from Western masterpieces. Figures from different centuries and cultures are interwoven in varying compositions, depicting current day underlying tensions between the East and the West.

Aquil’s Persian miniatures are reminiscent of the Safavid dynasty of Iran and are layered against Goya’s works portraying violence, disorder and chaos. Each work is multi-layered in its meaning and complexity, with the clash of civilizations also reflective of the artist’s own tensions, being of an ethnic background with a British/European upbringing. 

The inspiration behind the artist’s use of herringbone linen comes from the Mughal miniature painting ‘Princes of the House of Timur,’ observed by the artist at the National Portrait Gallery, London. The symmetry in the herringbone weave is reminiscent of the geometric patterns in Islamic architecture. His application of gold leaf was inspired by its use in ancient manuscript paintings, Qurans, the ‘Shahnameh,’ and works for the Royal Court.

The exhibition is arranged in two galleries; Gallery II introduces the story while Gallery III presents the characters.

> Download Catalogue