After holding a grudge against the very act of painting, I return to the practice.

(Faiza Butt)

Aicon is pleased to present The Real Unreal, new paintings by Faiza Butt. Having exhibited in two group shows previously, Pale Sentinels curated by Salima Hashmi in 2018 and Intricacies: Fragment and Meaning in 2019, this is the first solo exhibition of Butt's works at the gallery. Opening on March 30, this solo exhibition will also be Butt's first in New York.

After spending much time working on elaborately rendered pointillist drawings, large-scale collage paintings, and painted ceramics, for The Real Unreal, Butt focuses exclusively on oil paintings to wonderous effect. Butt found inspiration in the Dutch Old Masters, from the Golden Age of painting such as Melchoir de Hondecoter, whose works represented exotic birds. The Dutch traded with far-off cultures, such as India and China, and brought back knowledge, information, and materials that extended their understanding of the world. Butt was also particularly fascinated with the genre of 'Menagerie painting,' where the natural world acts out human morality symbolically. The landscape in which exotic birds act out coded and subverted acts was a spiritual space laced with evidence of Dutch interaction and trade with the wider world.

The peacock repeatedly appears in de Hondecoter's work, with the composition interlaced with Christian messages of morality. In Faiza's Phantasmagoric series of paintings, she has created a fantasy menagerie: a natural space where exotic birds co-exist in what appears to be utopian harmony, but upon closer inspection are not quite as idyllic as we are led to believe.

There is an absence of humans, but their presence is felt in the form of rubbish and debris littered amongst the feathered creatures. Pepsi and Coke cans, KFC and McDonald’s bags peek out of the bushes, nestled amongst the animals. Concerns about human tainting of the natural world are clearly expressed in this series of works. In Butt's words:

I want to remind my audience that no matter how close the imagery is to nature or our recognizable surroundings, once translated into a painting, they remain fantastical and 'unreal'. I have dedicated the narratives in this body of works, to the natural world and its wonders. I hope my works draw the audience in, with seduction of beauty, skill and scale, and then deliver the bigger message of climate, consumption and our collective responsibilities towards our global village.

All the works in the exhibition have been finished with historic gilt frames to complete the reference of Butt's work's appeal as an 'object' of historic value. Born in 1973, Faiza Butt trained at the National College of Arts in Lahore and the Slade School of Art in London. Her work has been shown in various museums and included in several publications. Butt's mid-career retrospective Paracosm opened at the New Art Exchange in April 2015. It traveled to the Art Exchange at the University of Essex in November 2015, then opened at the Attenborough Centre of Arts (University of Leicester) in October 2016 as the final chapter of its tour. The specially commissioned installation 'Paracosm' was shown at the Alchemy Festival at South Bank, London, in May 2017. She has had various solo shows, including Grosvenor Gallery, London (2021); the Attenborough Art Centre, UK (2016); the Art Exchange, UK (2015); Rossi & Rossi, London (2014); Canvas Gallery, Karachi (2014); and Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi (2012) among others. Her work is found in private and public collections, including the British Museum, London; the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, New Delhi; and the Burger Collection, Hong Kong. Butt was awarded a UNESCO-Aschberg Bursary and was artist-in-residence at the Bartle Arts Trust (BAT) in Durban, South Africa, in 1995. She was nominated for the Jameel Prize by the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, in 2011 and was a finalist for the Sovereign Art Prize, Hong Kong, in 2009.