Chashme Badoor

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Chashme Badoor is a pair of spectacles made in silver, gilded in gold, encrusted with green onyx and champagne-colored zircons. This pair was conceptualized in Oxford, handcrafted in Lahore and the final drawings in the lenses were made in Dubai. They replicate the 17th-century spectacles named Astana-ye-Ferdous, fabled to have been made for a Mughal Prince in India. In place of the emerald lenses, I have embedded graphite drawings of refugees from the Partition of India in 1947.

Auctioneers and European historians have brazenly posed in the original spectacles. Most recently, Pharrel Williams appropriated the design claiming it was his original collaboration with Tiffany & Co. I have placed them in Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford, in one of the cabinets of curiosities, to draw attention to its contentious past and present perception. The drawings in the lenses act as a 'vision corrector', forcing the viewer to confront the refugee crisis that was created as the British colonizers hastily left the new divided Subcontinent.

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A New Way of Looking?

Text by Salima Hashmi

In this year of the return of the Benin bronzes - most reluctantly in dribs and drabs - to their place of origin, one hopes for universal soul searching about the colonial transfer of precious objects. Coming across the gleeful image of William Dalrymple, peering through the Astaneh-e Ferdous, a luscious pair of Mughal spectacles with emerald lenses stopped one dead in one's tracks. Could Emperor Shahjehan (1627-1658) have possibly contemplated the plans for the Taj Mahal through these green-tinted glasses? 

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Left: Scottish historian William Dalrymple with the original pair.
Right: Rapper Pharrel William with his appropriated design in collaboration with Tiffany & Co.

As a resident of Lahore, a once Mughal city, which still retains some of its architectural gems that define the genius and wealth of the Empire, one muses on how little else survived of that time. A few motley items: a once majestic carpet from the imperial workshops sits in faded splendor in Lahore Museum, a few paintings, some coins but not much else. The true riches lie in museums in London, in the Royal Collections, in Windsor, as well as stately homes across the Emerald Isle.  Other treasures have moved across the Atlantic, where they are objects of awe and wonder.

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For us, the inhabitants of the Subcontinent, the yearning to reclaim, imagine, and dwell upon the beauty of objects which surrounded the emperors, their courts and nobility is palpable, but unattainable.

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Detail, Chashme Badoor. Farsi for evil eye stay away. The graphite sketch is made on mylar and cast in green-tinted resin.

Chashme Badoor emerges from this yearning. Its imagining and crafting by artist and designer reflect both the celebration and the pain embedded in a collective memory. The celebration stems from the conversation and collaboration between two individuals who reinvent cultural patterns and skills which continue to reside in the 'colonies', having survived the onslaught of the destruction of patronage and economics of art making.

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Designer Sheraz Faisal in his studio.

Saba Qizilbash sets out to draw attention to the multiple artistic legacies which reside in a single object: a pair of spectacles up for grabs at a grand auction at Sotheby’s. They have been appropriated, not once but twice - the second time as an act of piracy by the American rapper Pharrel Williams. The artist and her collaborator, designer Sheraz Faisal, investigated the possible context of such an object in the historical traumas subsequent to the 1857 War of Independence and decimation of the Empire.  The Partition of the Subcontinent in 1947, presented itself as the only possible route to the green-tinted spectacles. 

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The first set of drawings were made using reference images of Margret Burke-White's photographs of the Partition. She was one of the few photo-journalists who had safe access to both sides of the border. After a month long chasing of licensing houses and estates, permission to use them in the form of art was denied.

When Qizilbash was denied the use of the seminal documentation of the trauma of the largest population exchange photographed by Margaret Burke-White, it raised the obvious question: Whose horrors were they anyway? Who benefits from denial of rightful access? Those nameless sufferers remain nameless, with no one to question their rights. But art prevails, nonetheless. These and many other questions of genealogies of transfer of survival, of the exquisiteness of objects, and the tragedy they can embody. The delicate forms of Chashme Badoor are radiant with both guilt and desire.

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Special thanks to Marenka Thompson-Odlum at the Pitt Rivers Museum for believing in my project. David Tolley and Flounder Lee for their endless technical guidance. Sheraz Faisal for his enthusiasm and expertise and Professor Salima Hashmi for all her wisdom and support. To the jewelers in Satwa, Dubai who wiped my tears on more than one occasion, I remain forever indebted.

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Photo by Amaia Salazar Rodriguez

The glasses were placed in one of the cabinets at the Pitt Rivers Museum on May 27, 2022.