Coloring with Association

Rani Molla
Written 1 year ago
in Design

"And How Many Rains Must Fall before the Stains Are Washed Clean" (2013) By Imran Qureshi (b. 1972, Hyderabad, Pakistan) Photograph: The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Hyla Skopitz

Much color work for designers requires avoiding unintentional associations: Red and blue make any map seem partisan, while red and green will always feel a lot like Christmas. But in other design situations, such associations are intentional and helpful.

Colors convey longstanding psychological and cultural ideas, and designers can use that to their benefit. Logo colors might aid in denoting which companies each bar in a bar chart represents, as long as those color differences aren’t too subtle (think Twitter, Tumblr and Facbook blue).

There’s also a reason so many packaged food items come in red packaging (it’s appetizing and comforting) and that food companies often rely on un-dyed tan containers and green imagery to signify healthier fare — even if in reality it’s processed and its healthy qualities, questionable. The use of color can span the gamut, from funny to offensive, from helpful to complicating. The job of a designer is to balance aesthetics with meaning.

It’s then no mistake that Imran Qureshi’s intricate red blooms on the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art conjure a massacre.

The blossoming tendrals, painted in the style the miniaturists who worked for the Mughal court, commemorate the viscious bombings in Lahore, Pakistan, where the artist is from. In 2010 50 died there when suicide bombers blue up a Sufi shrine, and nothing is so viscerally represents death as the color blood red.  “And How Many Rains Must Fall Before the Stains Are Washed Clean,” named from a line in a poem by the Urdu poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz, is Qureshi’s first large-scale installation in the U.S., but continues with themes the artist has been working on for years.

Appearing like the remnants of a bloody slaughter atop the Met, it is at first tough imagery to digest. But eventually, museumgoers become accustomed to walking upon it and taking in imagery and associations that are more important than ever. Bloodshed is a sight that’s getting all too familiar around the world, broadcast as it is on our computer screens and sometimes even based in our backyards.

For Qureshi, his blood florets carry a positive meaning, too. The also suggest rebirth and life—and bloom in conjunction with spring in Central Park as the background. That progress can come from tragedy is an obvious statement, but it’s one that bears repeating.

Each year, the Metropolitan Museum of Art Roof Garden hosts a single-artist exhibition. Last year, Argentina’s Tomás Saraceno adorned the roof with a habitable network of mirrors called Cloud CityIn the case of “And How Many Rains Must Fall Before the Stains Are Washed Clean,” it will be “washed clean” in November, when the rooftop becomes too cold to habit.

Memories of its blood-red imagery will last much longer.

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Photographs courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Hyla Skopitz.

The Roof Garden Commission: Imran Qureshi
Metropolitan Museum of Art Roof Garden
Through Nov. 3 

Rani Molla has a digital media master’s degree from Columbia Journalism School. She’s a journalism reader, writer, photographer, videographer, data visualizer and general doer. Follow her on Twitter.