Ibrahim Quarashi tracks the ideal cowboy


NORTH ADAMS -- At the end of every western film, it seems the infallible cowboy can always be seen riding off into the sunset, traveling alone on horseback, into the unknown.

The enigma of the Western cowboy has been an obsession of Pakistani-born artist Ibrahim Quarashi. His latest installation, Dreaming Arizona, opens tonight at Gallery 51.

"In Dreaming Arizona, I aim to simultaneously expose the structures that influence how we see the codes of an American Cowboy, with references from to Spaghetti Westerns, homo- eroticism, and pop culture like Andy Warhol," Quarashi said.

In 2007, he set out to explore the environment of this lost profession by driving in a white Bronco on an endless highway through the heartland of America.

He traveled through Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Texas and Colorado, and later took a closer look at Mexican cowboys in Yucatan, Veracruz and Oaxaca.

"Initially when I stared the project I thought I would somehow come to a deeper understanding to what it takes to be a cowboy," he said. "In the process of this personal re search, I realized the closer I wanted to get to the ‘ideal' cowboy, the more I was becoming like a superficial tourist, and my gaze was super shallow."

After spending time traveling, filming, photographing, and meeting all kinds of people along the highways, he realized just how much contemporary cowboy culture is about travel and religion. This inspired him to rent a white Bronco, instead of the iconic horse, and film Highway 67 at different times, speeds, and dates to create an endless loop.

"It gives a sense of how travel is so connected to the desire of an ideal that is perhaps never reached in the world of modern cowboys. I suppose Dreaming Arizona is a metaphoric journey through the legendary Highway 67 to expose the end of cowboy-ism through a series of seven films within seven different time frames, structure and inner sequences," he said.

His exhibit looks at "the spatial analysis on the structures that influence how we see a world, a particular space wanting to metaphorically indulge in the illusions of a cowboys' hyper-masculinity without any of its real responsibilities," he said. " [Traveling through the American heartland] is a contemporary metaphor for an endless road trip that hold a very religious resonance is definitely subconscious but always present in the psyche.

"It's an interesting, honest look at an era in America and the John Wayne's," said Jon athan Secour, Director of MCLA Berkshire Cultural Re source Center. Secour had worked with Quarashi in the past at Mass MoCA.

For this instillation, a live goat and a few bales of hay from Bonnie Lea Farms in Williams town will appear at the opening reception.

Janette Santos, the local curator of the exhibit for Gallery 51, worked on the display for seven large photos that Quarashi took.

"This is his take on cowboy-ism and how the east perceives the western culture," she said.

She describes his work as lonely and melancholy.

Quarashi works with different mediums, like photography, photo painting, video, film, in stallation, manifestation and performance pieces.

"The medium is never up front at the start of a new project," he said. "The content will always determine the project and then the requested medium will be found and thus explored. The work hopefully brings forth experiences of alienation in which an ideal body no longer knows whether it is in a real physical space or inside the fleeting image of itself in constant motion."

From his instillation, "Dream ing Arizona," to his approach as an artist in the world, he considers himself a traveler.

He is currently based in Amsterdam and Berlin, where he divides his time into re searching, creating, and teaching. His work is featured in Belgium, India, Amsterdam, New York, Dubai, Singapore, Japan, Berlin, Rio de Janeiro, and Istanbul amongst other places. He is a member of the Faculty of Fine Arts, Gerrit Rietveld Acadamie and has been teaching at the Hoge school Voor De Kunsten, Amsterdam since 2007.

"Traveling is only about moving and just not settling down," he said. "It is rather moving into the unknown, rather than settling in one specific place. This explains my approach towards the different art forms and mediums." If you go ...

What: Art openings and receptions city wide.

When: Tonight, 6 to 9 p.m.

Gallery 51: Dreaming Arizona, by Ibraham Quarashi

18 Holden St.: Spot Pond, by Michelle Lauriat

Gallery 53: Messages from Iran,
curated by Sahar Khairkhah

Gallery 105: Tatiana Klacsmann,
by the Forest of And And And

Live Performances

What: Timur and the Dime Museum, a gothic,
glam-operatic band

Where: Holden Street Stage, Holden St.,

When: Tonight, 8 p.m.

What: Eiko and Koma, Japanese choreographer, dancers

Where: 69 Holden St., North Adams

When: Tonight, 6 p.m.

What: Bang on a Can: Found Sound Nation

Where: Holden Street Stage

When: Tonight, 6: 30 p.m.

Information: downstreetart.org


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