Ahmed Ali Manganhar


Ahmed Ali Manganhar

Ahmed Ali Manganhar was born in Tando Allahyar and studied at the National College of Arts, Lahore. He has exhibited across the globe and has a loyal

Through A Glass Darkly
Rashid Arshed
Afshar Malik: The Amphitheatre Of Memory And Musing

Ahmed Ali Manganhar was born in Tando Allahyar and studied at the National College of Arts, Lahore. He has exhibited across the globe and has a loyal following. Manganhar is one of Pakistan’s most cerebral artists, for whom the distinction between art and life is nebulous at best. He enjoys engaging with people who live on the peripheries of life, like nomads, explorers or ‘malangs’. He reads voraciously, delving into topics that address the history and culture of Sindh. And yet he is as universal an artist as any.



ArtNow: Tell us about your obsession with film and why you have adopted it as an extended metaphor for your art?



AAM: Cinema was my first introduction as a child to the constructed visual world, a place of joy and celebration with posters all over town, film stills, and the moving images in the dark that were much larger than life. The city was decorated with cut- out posters which instilled the desire to make images. As children, we played making cardboard posters and pasting them on the walls in the neighbourhood, sometimes on bathroom doors or the kitchens of people’s homes. My work is based on those first memories.



Later, in my art education at NCA (National College of Arts), I saw European art only as small reproductions in books. I read about it, saw my teachers practicing it. It was a powerful world and, for a long time, that took over my art practice and I forgot all about my first visual reference.



But coming to study in Lahore was doubly exciting for me because this was also home to the greatest film studios and I visited Lakshmi Chowk regularly on my lonely haunts or with new students who had just arrived in the city. The degeneration and disappearance of that world has left me lonely…it’s been like losing a companion.



In 2008, those memories came back to me and I wanted to make those images again. Contemporary art was open to taking from all visual media and cinema and its related art practices were all a thing of the past, taken over by digital photography.



AN: When I showed your work to foreign curators, they said it was too ethnic and the issues addressed were not universal. Do you agree with this? Is this how you want your art to be seen?



AAM: It is not my concern to direct people on how to see my work. My work may seem ambiguous, without a clear agenda. But my question is, does the universality of art begin in Europe and end there? Today, European curators may prefer to look at women’s issues like burqas, or sexuality, or political problems like missiles and mullahs and conceptual artists in Pakistan are directed by that agenda. That is not my concern. If American/European curators are now focused on the “Arab Spring” I cannot be driven to paint that way.



I do not have universal concerns in conventional sense but feel that I paint to recognize myself. I don’t see why I should kill my love of painting to please anybody.



People often tell me that I am trapped in the medium of painting. But there has always been a pressure not to paint and even some European painters whom I admire, like Anselm Kiefer, Gerhard Richter, and Sigmar Polke worked against the “capitalist realism” of their times.



AN: What is your ambition vis a vis your art? Do you want to be invited to the next big biennial? Do you want to be shown in galleries around the world?



AAM: I have had many shows abroad. In 2003, my work travelled as a slide show at the Tate in New York for a lecture delivered by Mrs Hashmi, in 2007, I travelled to Indian Hyderabad for a residency. In 2007, in London, Aicon Gallery curated works of some artists in ‘Figurative Pakistan’, in 2009, there was another show in London ‘Drawn from Life’ curated by Green Cardamom. My work was shown internationally in 2011 in Bradford, England and then in Dubai in a show titled ‘How Nations Are Made’.



My work is in Van Gogh Museum in the ASL Collection in Holland. It has also been represented in Granta in 2011, the literary magazine based in England, and in Marg, a Bombay publication.



I am a professional artist and show and sell my work all over the world through curators and art educators. I don’t know where so much of my work is now. But definitely, I would welcome any opportunity to share my work with artists around the world and to be in dialogue with others who have similar concerns.



AN: How much does literature and poetry influence your art?



AAM: I think the narrative in my work comes from literature and the composition of paintings…the colour, structure, framing…is a visual employment of poetry.



AN: Why are you such a determined formalist? Have you ever wanted to use installation, video or even photography as a medium of expression?



AAM: I do not lay claims to be a formalist like a leader or a believer. I am not a group leader or a teacher. Most artists belong to schools of thought and don’t need to explain their position. Take for instance, Zahoorul Akhlaque who followed in the footsteps of the modernist Shakir Ali and then expanded his vocabulary. To this day, there is a strong influence of that school of thought based on the unlearning of methods of painting. I know that artists tend to move in groups and schools of thought to sell their work, travel abroad, and be invited to residencies, even to teach at art institutions.



In my works, I have used archival photographs from Sindh’s colonial history, made a film on a series of slate paintings, another film based on my drawings of Nusrat Fateh Ali is taught at the NCA, and I also explored interactive art when I studied for my Masters at the NCA. But my medium remains the mystery of the surface and all that cannot be said in words but only in images.



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