Ambreen Butt, Untitled, from the series Bed of My Own Making, 1999. Watercolor, gouache and thread on Mylar, and paper, 14 x 11 inches (35.6 x 27.9 cm). Gift of Nancy B. Tieken. © Ambreen Butt
Ambreen Butt elaborates on traditional Persian miniature painting in works laced with both historical reference and contemporary resonance. Her intimately scaled imagery on overlaid sheets of stitched Mylar and paper presents open-ended narratives that are formally and conceptually layered. The works are organized in series that contextualize and expand on their themes.
Butt’s experience as a Pakistani Muslim in the United States has grounded her depictions of a heroine gracefully poised on the threshold of self-defining change. Loosely based on the nayika—a heroine who introduces the action in Persian paintings—the protagonist in the series Bed of My Own Making is herself the center of the action, both its cause and effect. Caught yet capable, she finds herself in a universal situation that Butt describes as being about “making choices and living with them for better or for worse.” In Untitled, a woman is caught mid-stride at the top of a hill while juggling balls and balancing a potted tree on her head. Through the mist of the Mylar surface and a matrix of dotted lines, we see that the surface ahead of her bare feet descends unevenly into uncertain territory. The dots condense around her, and it seems that she makes her way by negotiating the haze they create in her path.
The presence of this work in the ICA/Boston collection, one of two from the Bed of My Own Making series, contributes to the ICA’s effort to enhance the depth and range of works in the collection, and to examine the meaningful connections and distinctions between them.