Bookreviewjan2015_1

A History of Art in a Few Words

The Department of Fine Arts, established by Anna Molka Ahmed in 1940 at the University of the Punjab, has been producing artists and designers of high merit. Some of the painters that have emerged from this institution include Khalid Iqbal, Colin David, A.R. Nagori, Ijaz ul Hassan, Zubeida Javed, Ghulam Rasul, Zulqarnain Haider, Mussarat Mirza, Durre Wasim, Ali Azmat and many more. But like an artist’s personal history of transformation – usually from a student to a professional, and often from academic exercises and realistic rendering to more individualistic, stylized and refined works – art institutes also change with the passage of time. Thus, the Department of Fine Arts turned into the Institute of Art and Design, before coming to its present state/status of being the College of Art and Design.

This history, contained in the works of many generations of artists who have studied at the place, is now available in the form of a book: A Journey of Resilience and Success, written by Marjorie Husain along with three other contributors. The book was published by the College of Art and Design, University of the Punjab, Lahore, in 2013 and its concept and development are attributed to Dr. Rahat Naveed Masud (one of the contributors).

The book brings together the past and the present (1940 to 2013) of a place that is known for a certain kind of art practice. The strength of teaching at the Punjab University was in its stress on observation and a specific colour palette (influenced by Anna Molka Ahmed’s art), but the book refutes this misconception and misreading. As like any other art school in the country and elsewhere, the College of Art and Design has also produced diversity in terms of style, themes and techniques. This becomes clearer in the Section 2 of the book, which is comprised of separate entries on various artists who studied there and now are known as part of Pakistani art.

The text on these artists, from Anna Molka Ahmed to the younger generation, such as Anila Zulfiqar, Saqiba Haq and Imran Mudassar, offers insight to their creative process, aesthetic choices and artistic concerns. It also provides a brief history of their lives, educations and careers, supported by reproductions of their art works. One can trace a shift in approach towards modernism among the painters from Punjab University, since the earlier generation seems to be more concerned about portraying the reality of nature, whereas the later generation explored new vistas; but within this rule there seems to be some exceptions. The work of Ijaz ul Hassan (born 1938) indicates the imaginative approach towards investigating pictorial space and incorporating other forms of expression in the art of painting. Or A.R. Nagori (born 1938), who deviated from a realist mode to a more informal and causal depiction as his painting, like Ijaz ul Hassan’s, dealing with the political issues of our times. Similarly, the recent works of Saberah Malik (born 1949), in the form of installations suggests how the artist has moved away from the convention of a style and explored other possibilities.

All these examples testify the way openness in art education can lead to multiple solutions, something that can be glimpsed in the Section 3 of the book, titled “A Preview of the Future”, which includes works by recent graduates. In this chapter one comes across experiments in techniques and materials, as a number of artists have worked with digital prints, created installations and made site-specific sculptures along with paintings in highly sensitive manner. These show how the new group of students are learning from the tradition and using conventional pictorial language in order to formulate a new vocabulary that is not confined to the walls of Punjab University, because like a person sitting at the studio or in an office within the historic buildings of Old Campus can connect to his time and far off places (in New York, Paris, London), similarly his thoughts and art can be connected to the places/centres of mainstream art.

But it is the role of the faculty that is essential in providing that physical and mental space, and looking at the works of new artists from Punjab University, one is aware of how the faculty, instead of imposing a doctrine, is making it possible for multiple, often contradictory voices to emerge. Section 4 commemorates the faculty, and introduces former and present teachers at the College of Art and Design. The section also includes a large number of photographs of faculty and cultural, intellectual and academic activities at the premises in the recent past.

Even though A Journey of Resilience and Success offers less text than pictures (a trait that makes it more like catalogue than a book), in the first section, “From Vision to Reality: A Historical Account”, Rahat Naveed Masud documents and discusses the history of the institution which participated in shaping the contemporary art of Pakistan. The history of this institution is a reflection and part of the political history of Pakistan, because Punjab University witnessed – rather, suffered – from the political turmoil of the past.

This book on the history of Fine Art at Punjab University is in a way is account of how art and life are interconnected and how individuals teaching art in their studio are in reality making history, acknowledged in the A Journey of Resilience and Success.

A Journey of Resilience and Success (1940-2013) is co-authored by Marjorie Husain, Rahat Naveed Masud, Nadeem Alam and Barbara Schmtiz. Published by College of Art and Design, University of Punjab, 248 pages, 2014.

Amna Hussain is a Lahore-based independent curator and art writer.

 

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