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The Institute of Arab & Islamic Art has inaugurated its new space in Manhattan’s West Village with the first (and long overdue) U.S. presentation of Rummana Hussain (1952-1999), a pioneer of India’s conceptual and performance scene. 

Hussain was a fierce political activist due to her various identities as a woman in a patriarchal society, and a Muslim in a predominantly Hindu country sporadically rocked by spasms of violent nationalism. In her art, she explored how personal and political history converged in her body, which was one among many materials in complex installations and assemblages. The AIAI has restaged “The Tomb of Begum Hazrat Mahal”, a 1997 installation which takes the historical figure of Begum Hazrat Mahal, the second wife of Nawab of Awadh Wajid Ali Shah, and the regent of Awadh, as its protagonist. With her husband, she lead an armed revolt against the British East India Company in 1857. Here, the gallery acts as an altar for Hussain to offer her fealty in the form of dead roses, heavy iron tools, divas bound in string, and pale papaya halves splayed open like limbs. Myth and memory mingle without discernible boundary.