Imagining Empathy: The Art of Shezad Dawood

shezad dawood
Labanof Cycle and font, Shezad Dawood at Salisbury Cathedral. Finnbarr Webster

Nestled within the storied walls of a grand cathedral lies an exhibition that beckons visitors to delve deep into the profound complexities of migration and climate change. This captivating showcase is the brainchild of the talented British-Pakistani artist Shezad Dawood, whose collaborative efforts with climate scientists, marine biologists, and oceanographers have birthed an awe-inspiring display that challenges onlookers to empathize with both our fellow humans and the planet itself.

Step into the sacred space of Salisbury Cathedral and witness the transformation of ordinary objects into poignant symbols. School ID cards, USB sticks, and cigarettes, suspended as textile paintings in the Labanof Cycle, serve as haunting reminders of lives lost during perilous journeys from North Africa to Italy. Each item represents a personal effect of a refugee or migrant, meticulously collected and archived by the Labanof at the University of Milan. The emotional weight of these artifacts is not lost on Dawood, who sees them as a powerful means to foster empathy and reshape public discourse.

Amidst the cathedral’s hallowed architecture, Dawood’s Leviathan exhibition offers an immersive experience designed to evoke contemplation and introspection. Works such as “Where do we go now?” and “Coral Alchemy (Acropora Grove)” stand as testaments to the interconnectedness of our world and the urgency of addressing climate change. The strategic placement of sculptures and textile pieces within the Chapter House, home to the Magna Carta, adds an additional layer of complexity, igniting dialogue on the evolving notion of human rights over time.

Perhaps one of the most enchanting elements of Leviathan is its undercurrent of optimism. Through captivating video works that envision a near-future world, Dawood weaves traditional knowledge and stories to explore strategies for survival. This optimism permeates the exhibition and is, in part, a reflection of the cathedral’s context. The cathedral, a site of worship and reflection, serves as the perfect backdrop for Dawood’s thought-provoking creations.

Reverend Dr. Kenneth Padley, chair of the cathedral’s arts advisory panel, underscores the alignment of Dawood’s work with the tumultuous nature of the world and the true spirit of Christmas. He believes that the themes of migration and climate change encapsulate the essence of the holiday season, offering a profound perspective on the timeless narrative of Jesus as an emigrant fleeing from King Herod.

With each passing hour, visitors to the cathedral are invited to partake in a harmonious convergence of prayer and art. The exhibition becomes a timeless conversation, prompting introspection and contemplation amidst the daily rhythms of the cathedral and its worshippers.

The enchanting allure of Dawood’s Leviathan will grace Salisbury Cathedral until February 4, 2024, beckoning all who seek to embrace empathy and awaken their senses to the interconnectedness of humanity and the world.

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