|Not Arizona, but Death Valley... Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber|
By Ruth Ellen Gruber
An installation by the artist Ibrahim Quarashi uses the iconic American highway to track what he calls "the end of cowboyism."
Quirashi, described as a Pakistani now based in Europe (Berlin and Amsterdam) was born in Nairobi, according to the web site of a gallery that represents him. The "enigma of the Western cowboy" is said to have long been one of his obsessions.
His "Dreaming of Arizona" installation dates from 2009, when it was first shown in Amsterdam, but it has recently been mounted in Massachusetts.
It is yet another example of the many ways in which people around the world are caught up in the mythology of the American West and the Frontier; with the "highway" often playing a mystical as well and mythical role, redolent of all sorts of symbolism.
In Dreaming Arizona, Quarashi states on his web site
a metaphoric journey through the legendary Highway 64 is created to expose the end of cowboyism through a series of 7 films within 7 different time frames and 7 sets of photo prints.
It seems to me that he may actually mean legendary Route 66, since, coming from the east, Highway 64 stops at the Arizona border. Oddly enough, an article about Quarashi and the installation in the North Adams Transcript refers to -- and quotes Quarashi as referring to -- the highway at Highway 67, which in fact runs north-south and also does not enter Arizona....
The article, by Jess Gamari, quotes Quarashi as saying:
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 [...] 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.
The exhibit, he added
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.
Gamari writes that in 2007, Quarashi rented a white Bronco and traveled through Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Texas and Colorado, and later took a closer look at Mexican cowboys in Yucatan, Veracruz and Oaxaca.
Here is a video of the installation, from Quarashi's web site -- the text at the beginning and end of the film is also interesting as a description of the project.