Pakistani Art

Through the looking glass

21 February 2015

After a decade of epistolary exchanges, I finally met Shahzia Sikander, Pakistan’s most celebrated global icon of the arts, ironically unsung at home.

SikanderShahzia Sikander Selects, 2009, Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum, New York

“Not to be boxed in, to be able to transcend boundaries: for an artist, it’s essential.”

It is a pity that I got to discover Shahzia Sikander’s work only when I left Pakistan. After her initial successes in the 1990s, with her migration to the United States, she slowly disappeared from the local art scene and the narratives within her country of birth, almost rendered invisible, like the mythical characters one reads in the folklore. In a different country, she would be celebrated for being a global icon, intensely original and gifted. Not in her country of birth where talent is subjugated to the cliques that define ‘excellence’ and where history has to be doctored to make the present legible and comfortable.

sikander2The Scroll, 1989-91

Sikander graduated from the National College of Arts in 1991. Her innovative work struck everyone since she had done something remarkable with the miniature form. Reinterpreting the format of a traditional Indo-Persian miniature, she crafted a personal relationship and in a way liberated it from the clutches of ‘tradition’. Prior to her work, the late Zahoor ul-Akhlaq inducted postmodern ideas during the 1970s and 1980s and suggested how miniature remained a relevant form for ‘contemporary’ artists. In his own work he borrowed elements of the miniature form and merged them with the abstract style he practiced. Sikander went beyond and using miniature as the foundation for her work created something new. Her teacher Ustad Bashir Ahmed encouraged her and thus began the great revival. Later, Imran Qureshi, Aisha Khalid, Ambreen Butt, Saira Wasim and many others took this movement forward and they are all globally celebrated artists in their own right.

Counter Terrorism by Urdu Literature

15 February 2015

I partiicpated in a VOA show with Ayesha Siddiqa and Wusatullah Khan hosted by Tabinda Naeem on language, literature and current trends.


Raza Rumi on countring terrorism by Urdu… by razarumi1

Journey to change

30 January 2015

In referencing N M Rashed, clay pots, paper boats, the river Ravi and the lost garment ‘Saddri’, Pakistani artist Sabah Husain creates a seamless whole out of seemingly disparate objects.

sabih hasanBoats made of drawings and paintings on paper. Inkjet prints

Sabah Husain, the accomplished artist of Pakistan, is a trendsetter. Currently affiliated with the School of Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Sabah displayed her recent works in Washington DC where the Pakistani Embassy showcased her works for art lovers in town and also reiterated how important cultural diplomacy is for our missions abroad.

As someone who has followed Sabah’s work for some time, I have always been intrigued by her fusion of Pakistan’s rich literary and cultural traditions into her oeuvre of printmaking and paperworks. The exhibition entitled ‘Mapping Waters’ (January 22-27, 2015) presented a range of paintings, prints and photography.

sabih hasan2Sabah Husain at XVA Gallery in Bastakiya Art Fair

Four distinct, yet interwoven, sensibilities were curated at the exhibition: first, Sabah’s enduring conversation with Urdu’s best known modern poet Noon Meem Rashid and his epic poem ‘Hassan Koozagar Ke Naam’; the second layer invoked her interpretations of the once popular but now in virtual disuse ‘saddri’ (men’s waistcoat with Central Asian origins); the paper boat; and Lahore’s dying River Ravi. At the outset these layers may appear to be incompatible but essentially they represent non-linear, complex journeys of an artistic vision.

In his celebrated poem, Rashed identifies himself with Hassan the koozagar (the potter). In material terms most ancient civilizations display pottery as both a daily convenience as well as an expression of the collective creative spirit. At a metaphysical level, clay symbolizes the material for creation shaped by the “creator”. Thus all three are one in the Sufi parlance of Wahdut ul Wajud (Unity of Being) and best represented by the famous line from Jalaluddin Rumi:

“Khud Kooza O, Khud Kooza Gar O, Khud Gil-e-Kooz; Khud Rind O Subu Kush; Khud Bar Sar-e-Aan Kooza Kharidaar; Bar Amad Ba Shikast O Ravaan Shu.”

He the vessel, its creator and also its clay;

He is the reveller drinking from it…

And is the one who buys it and breaks the vessel having drunk from it

The mythical Hassan from Rashed’s poem was a resident of Baghdad and invoked during his long soliloquy, the banks of River Tigris, the boat and the powers of his creativity, poverty and longing. The poem also reminds us of the cycles of personal and civilizational growth and decay. Sabah interprets the poem and its metaphors – the river and the boat – and locates them in contemporary settings. This is where it all comes together: the poet and the artist both identify with Hassan who on the banks of a River muses on Time and its various manifestations. One such manifestation for Hassan’s successor, Sabah Husain, is the forlorn piece of garment Saddri (Sabah in a conversation told me that she owns and wears them too).

(more…)

Cultural Assets of the Communities of District Multan and Bahawalpur, Pakistan

16 October 2011

“South Punjab, in particular, the districts of Multan and Bahawalpur…, have a vast range of cultural assets. the living culture of the communities carries influences of the inherited ancient civilizations and historical past which flourished in this region and has permeated their present day culture and its expressions. Cultural zones within these two districts are discernable which have infused the living culture of communities influencing their lifestyle, value system and world view; giving the South Punjab region a distinct cultural identity reinforced through their shared language, Saraiki. the earliest, dating back to 3800 BCE, is that of the Cholistan desert, the Rohi made famous by the region’s premier Sufi Saint Khawaja Ghulam Fareed. Although the built assets are contained within the desert yet its intangible expressions of poetry and oral narratives, song and dance is embedded
within the culture of the region, in particular Bahawalpur. The influences of the material culture of the ancient people of the Hakra Valley Civilization can still be found in the pottery making traditions and in the motifs and designs which continue to be used. The other identifiable culture ethos permeating the living culture of the region is that engendered by the advent of the Sufi saints in the 10th century onwards.  The Sufi philosophical and material culture emanated from the ancient cities of Multan and Uch Sharif, the central abode of mystical Islam in the region, which had far reaching impact on the whole of South Punjab and further into Sind and Northern India.  the erstwhile Bahawalpur State (1802-1955 CE) has also had deep influence on the culture of the district and the built form engendered during the State period has left an indelible mark on the built environment of the
entire area, most prominent in its capital city, Bahawalpur and the twin capital Dera Nawab Sahib….”
Read the full report by UNESCO here:  http://unesco.org.pk/culture/documents/publications/Cultural_Expressions.pdf

 

 

 

Pakistan: Fixing the civil-military imbalance

21 June 2011

Pakistan: Fixing the civil-military imbalance

By Raza Rumi:

Sovereignty is the flavour of the month in Pakistan. Since the capture and questionable assassination of Osama Bin Laden, the Pakistani discourse has been dominated by endless references to national sovereignty, honour, defence and pride. This jolt to the Pakistani state of mind has come at a time when media is relatively free, a vibrant boundless Internet flashes news by the second and there is quasi-democracy straddling between opportunism of the political elites and tunnel visions of the permanent ruling class: the security establishment.

That the Americans would conduct a surgical strike in the heart of military complex and ‘eliminate’ the poster-boy of Islamism has perturbed the right wing and their patrons who had worked hard for decades to construct a xenophobic, paranoid mindset justifying the country’s military machine. Arguments on incompetence or complicity are lethal for the uber-nationalist narratives; and hence the dilemma, perhaps the greatest of crises for the right wing in Pakistan. (more…)

Elusive freedom – a painting by Anwar Saeed (’92)

20 July 2010

Elusive Freedom

A new painting by Mehboob Ali

25 June 2010

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