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Last Updated: Friday, 1 October, 2004, 17:09 GMT 18:09 UK
Blair confronts art close to home
By Laura Smith-Spark
BBC News Online

Just a stone's throw from Tony Blair's new house in a quiet London square, he may be surprised to find images of himself used by two Pakistani artists.

Saira Wasim and Hasnat Mehmood use the prime minister and US president George Bush in powerful political paintings.

Saira Wasim's Mission Accomplished

Mr Blair has bought a 3.5m house in Connaught Square - only 200 yards from Hosains gallery on Connaught Street where their show will open on Thursday.

Curator Hammad Nasar said the proximity of Mr Blair's home was a "cruel irony".

He intends to invite Mr Blair to the Transcendent contemplations exhibition - but does not expect him to turn up.

And Mr Blair is not the only one unlikely to be there for the show's opening, Mr Nasar said.

There are other ways that Muslim cultures have to register dissent than just blowing themselves up
Curator Hammad Nasar

Attempts to get a visa for Mr Mehmood to travel to the UK from the small town of Jhelum in Pakistan where he works have so far been unsuccessful.

"Given that he's a male Muslim, mid-20s and has facial hair - he has a goatee - it's just been proving virtually impossible," Mr Nasar said.

"I find it really ironic that we are going to be showing this kind of witty protest at what Blair and Bush have done to the world on the doorstep of the prime minister's new residence."

The artists, both in their mid-20s, have made an impact in the US and now hope to do the same in the UK.

Hasnat Mehmood's Conference of Crows - courtesy of Green Cardamom
A Smith and Wesson gun is juxtaposed with other symbols

Ms Wasim's work Regime Change - which shows the US president replacing Saddam Hussein on a plinth - has just been bought by London's Victoria and Albert museum.

Mr Nasar said: "Right now in the UK I think it is particularly important to bring art from the cultures of the Muslim world, where there is a very polarised image of what these cultures represent.

"It's important to show that there are other ways that Muslim cultures have to register dissent than just blowing themselves up.

"They can do it with wit and humour as well."

Riding a cow

He said it was ridiculous that artists who had the talent to make it into institutions like the V&A "are unable to get into the country and represent a different model of how young Muslims can make their voices heard".

Another of Ms Wasim's paintings, Mission Accomplished, shows Mr Bush in military uniform riding on a cow, with Mr Blair wearing a jester's collar and carrying an umbrella for him - like a "gentleman's gentleman".

A map behind them shows the world's Muslim states in a jibe at what the two leaders are doing to the world, Mr Nasar said.

Hammad Nasar, who runs an art gallery on Connaught Place
Hammad Nasar plans to send Tony Blair a booklet on the exhibition

He said the two artists had both trained in the same new miniature movement in Pakistan but their styles were quite different.

Where Mr Mehmood subtly juxtaposes images and symbols, Ms Wasim is far more confrontational.

The painters were picked to reflect the idea of freshness and new life symbolised by his company's name, Green Cardamom, Mr Nasar said.

"They are artists who are either relatively young and are still climbing up the international career ladder or artists from parts of the world that are not often represented by the big western galleries."

Of course, that low profile may change now they are next-door neighbours to Mr Blair.

The Transcendent contemplations exhibition runs from 8 to 23 October.

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