With this exciting theme of the first issue of the year 2020 “Best of the best”, Art Now has chosen artists featured from Jan 2018 to Dec 2019 issues. Here is a quick re-read of the artists who made a lasting contribution:
Akram Dost Baloch
Haroon Shuaib writes “Akram is happy to express his political views solely through his canvas. He has no patience for the mafias in politics and art. “We have actually compromised values in pursuit of recognition. Today so called art critics and media actually make artists. Back when I was still in college, I was asked by the same drawing room intellectuals to gather some boys from Balochistan on Labour Day for a rally. I do not question their intentions but they lacked a sense of reality – there were hardly any Baloch students in Lahore. Later, I was back in Naushki for summer break when Afghan war broke out and refugees started pouring in. There was an incidence in which some refugees killed a couple of Baloch boys after a feud. I also took part in the agitation against these refugee settlements in our area. I was arrested and spent almost three months in jail. When I returned to college after my jail yatra, there was a lot of excitement and the same people wanted to project me as a political icon but I refused. I told them I was arrested due to a neighbourhood brawl. I don’t feel the need to fit myself under any label.”
“Faruqui has experience with this collaborative creative process outside of his own professional practice as well through Pursukoon Karachi, an organisation he is a founding member of. Pursukoon Karachi was created as a response to the violence and deteriorating conditions in Karachi. It is a way for the creative community to work together with the vision to focus on the city’s deteriorating conditions and find solutions to mitigate them. The renovation of the Karachi Cantt Station was a project taken by Pursukoon Karachi to both return the more than century old structure to its original form and improve what was needed practically and creatively. Numerous people come to Karachi for work and opportunities not available to them otherwise. Cantt Station is the disembarkation point for many of these people. The benches and other structures created by a community of artists through Pursukoon Karachi added both functionality and aesthetic quality needed by the station.” Ammad Tahir
“I see Abidi’s water color series ‘The man who…’(2015) uncomfortably in synch with the traffic and culture of social-media blogs where the aim is a following of thousands . Andy Warhol is known to have said that everyone is going to be famous for 15 minutes, in the future. This recognition, plastic-fame (I may call it), squeezes out a space in an urgency to prove the one going with it…has some talent or prowess to be acclaimed and followed for. The title of Abidi’s work has been appropriated from the novel of Russian conceptual artist Ilya Kabakov’s ‘The Man who flew into space from his apartment’. These works, watercolor drawings of protagonists surpass all tests of idiosyncrasies to pave their name in history mainly via the Guinness book of world records, records range from ‘a man who could split a hair’ to ‘the man who gave up’ in Abidi’s creative constructs – yet the difference between the social media culture and these ‘repetitions and obsessions’ is of hardcore discipline and loyalty, Abidi pays them a genuine ode – probably there is nothing so ordinary about an ordinary man. ‘The man who…’ series, Shan Pipe Band learns The Star Spangled Banner (2004) where a band-legacy with tones and beats from an imperial past have superfluously evolved to desi-weddings and Abidi interjects by making them perform the American national anthem – The Karachi series (2009), Pakistanis who are from a range of minorities carry out their domestic acts on the streets of Karachi – the work makes their form appear statuesque , the roads are empty, it’s the holy month of Ramadan for the Muslim majority and all roads are empty during the opening of the fast. A sound of belonging, desire, ambition, confusion, pain and hope weaves through this image-making. Video, photography, drawing and sound walk along in curiosity of truths, never shared.”
Daish Ahmed’s early practice revolved around the exploration and investigation of human behavior and social subjects. Writing his profile for Art Now, Faiza Habib said “Working consistently within the art academia for 22 years not only as a teacher but as a Program Head at the Textile Institute of Pakistan and later at Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture Ahmed has made the most, of the exposure to global art research methodologies at his disposal, to develop his aesthetic and artistic doctrine. Though his responsibilities as an educationist have also prevented him from displaying often, he has practiced art-making behind the scene with vigor culminating in display of unpretentious yet profoundly nuanced works every few years.”
“Butt has now recently ventured into focusing on ceramics. “Living in a virtual world increasingly where one is always pressing buttons”, Butt once again wants to create art that involves the use of the senses and the hand. “The sign of the human hand as a signature holds a tremendous appeal to me”. She finds working with her bare fingers in clay a spiritual experience because of the warmth it exudes. It may also be comforting for her as she always recalls her mother working with her hands. Butt shyly admits that she is “nerdy” about physics and is intrigued by the science of ceramics as “it involves earth, water and fire. Even the paint I use is derived from natural materials and then the drawings that I paint on the ceramic pieces go in a kiln around 1200 degrees. It burns, it shrinks and comes out fossilised, stoneware that will last the test of time.” Saima Munawar quoted.
Feica was known as a BILO BHAI in the broadcasting world. He used to be a program manager for four radios in Karachi. This phenomenon is not much known to people and that segment of his life remained for around seventeen years. Feica was hired first time for the radio in 2001. “I got new training while working on the radio. There I stopped abusive and vulgar talk; I quit vulgarity in conversation so no bad word uttered from my mouth anymore,” told Feica who is now in the sixties.
Feica has also held exhibitions of his cartoons. In the late eighties, he had a show at Nairang Gallery, Lahore and there I first time met Feica with sculptor, Ghulam Nabi. The show comprised of the cartoons created during the Zia regime commenting on the despotic rule and its consequences. Recently he has shown his work at Artchowk Gallery Karachi. “Nowadays I am writing a novel. Soon after my birth, my mother went into a coma and prolonged unconsciousness for more than six months. I was fed by the maid-servant. Whatever the stories my mother told me; I am compiling all those in my novel.” explained Feica.
Talking about ‘scale’ to Veera Rustomji, Mulji describes how much failure artists battle with, to arrive at something akin to the idea they begin with. ‘It always reminds me of a verse by Sophia Naz: “The weight of night and all these crumpled boats of paper that fail to reach the shores of a poem”; If you’re lucky, after weeks or months of struggling, the work suddenly gains resolution, and you look at it with a kind of recognition. It is both familiar and unfamiliar at once, knowing that it is this very thing that you have been struggling to reveal. Then of course, ironically once you have it, you have nowhere to show it, once you’ve shown it, you have nowhere to store it. Over the years I have had to throw away so much work, particularly if it’s large scale, as I don’t have the space to keep it indefinitely. Thankfully, I’m not very prolific! To look at it another way, she says it is sometimes beneficial to clear out her studio and avoid facing all the off-cuts of success or defeat. Painters turn away their canvases; I sell my work to “kabari walay”. Inevitably someone will gasp and say “But why didn’t you sell it!? (i.e. to a collector)” – sculpture just doesn’t have that market.’
Zohreen Murtaza, during an interview with Iftikhar Dadi, asked that with all these Biennials happening, do you think that this is a seminal point in the history of art making in Pakistan? Why ? Dadi replied: “This requires a longer discussion, for another time and place perhaps. But briefly, the Pakistani art scene needs artistic exchange with national and international artists, opportunities for artists to create site-specific works, and for extended discussions and debates on art and culture and their relationship to social contexts. More exposure of the national art scene to international scholars, curators, and institutions is also required. All this must happen in a noncommercial context in order for exchanges to transpire on the basis of ideas and practices, rather than on recognizing monetary rewards and trophy-hunting by collectors. A well-conceived biennale can address some of these needs.”
“An artist is like a diamond, with different dimensions. A teacher, a mentor, a painter, a reader, a friend, a family member, an ordinary citizen etc. And in every role, the creative personality is distinct due to its uniqueness and individuality. Meher Afroze is a significant name in this regard. She taught for many years at the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture, is recognized being one of the leading artist of this country, and exhibited regularly in the country and outside. She has influenced a number of artists, inspired her students, and contributed to the world of art and literature with her presence.”
“A lens through which Farrukh prefers to view her writings and curatorial projects are the issues of Post Colonialism. She developed an interest in the politics of theorisation and began to view it as a consequence of Colonisation. She believes it is immensely important to deconstruct the canon, or rather to decolonise ourselves in every aspect and discipline. However, it was no less than a challenge to critique post-colonialism when the structure of criticism – and specifically art criticism – is highly systemic and informed by the developed world itself.” Numair Abbasi
Numair Abbasi writes in his essay; “Nabahat Lotia’s work has always stood out for its rustic and raw aesthetics, a facet that is not shared by majority of the other local ceramicists. Her pieces embody the earth and are a celebration of the nature and clay, an evident consequence of her childhood experiences and encounters. Lotia has not only been captivated with pottery but also with other hand-made crafts as well as indigenous rituals and activities. A recent installation, “Mannat” held in the exhibition “Basera” at Koel Gallery, replicated a tree riddled with fabric knots from the shrine of, Hazrat Ghoray Shah in Lahore, where devotees would offer ceramic horses to the saint to make vows.”
“Despite having strong roots with traditional techniques, ceramics has curiously dipped below the radar of internationally recognized Pakistani art practices. Salim points out that many artists simply don’t have the access to a ceramics studio or the tools required to experiment and sustain continuous work in this field. In Salim’s own words, ‘Behind every body of work in ceramics there’s a struggle of research and trial and error… If you work in Pakistan, you have to know how to make the required glazes, clays and additional elements which are needed. We don’t have stores where artists can go and buy readymade materials. This makes a difference – especially for beginners because it can be discouraging. Ceramics requires space, a certain set of equipment – it can be very expensive and most of all, it requires a lot of patience and understanding of your material. That’s why many students aren’t practicing after graduating because of the unavailability of facilities or having little access to the technicalities.’ With a considerable amount of adversaries ahead of a young Pakistani ceramic artist, she discusses how it took her more than three years after graduating to find an opportunity to create work for an exhibition.” Veera Rustomji wrote.
Shahid Waheed Khan
Most of Shahid’s ceramic work is classic, round, and lyrical compared to the modern trends in ceramic art, especially of the ceramists such as Jesse Wine, Brian Rochefort, Agata van Dijk, Nao Matsunaga and others, Haroon Shuaaib described. “If your surroundings are noisy, chaotic, rebellious, or you sense frustration it will reflect in your art. It will be an intellectual dishonesty to induce that feeling if it does not germinate from within. I like to work with wheel and wheel spins and only creates round forms. You may find disturbing textures in some of my pieces but the form will always be soft and round. A ceramist in Europe may take a clay lump, throw it on a slab, throw more lumps big and small, make a composition and dip brushes in glazes and splash on it. The viewers will accept it. I don’t know if that level of acceptance will ever be a norm in our society.”
Cosima Brand explained Sana’s work: “While each bird-being has its own energy and each painting carries a different feeling to the viewer, one thing that seems to connect them all is a pervasive feeling of quiet. The kind of hush that comes over a warm summer afternoon on rare occasions, where you can hear and see with such clarity that you still your breath to preserve the moment. That in-breath, that moment of utter stillness is where these painting seem to hang and while vivid and arrestingly visual, the paintings feel like they’ve captured that pure moment of inner silence between breaths. As the catalyst for this series, Arjumand was with a muse, a hoopoe bird that alighted on her balcony railing and communicated to her wordlessly and profoundly. From this time in 2013 we can see a marked shift in Arjumand’s work, where a meditative quality pervades and a deconstruction of self takes place. “That magical moment held intense light’, says Arjumand, ‘The imprint of it in my mind is so gentle that I remind myself of it often as not to forget its power.”
“Sikander has brilliantly intervened in the format with a time-based medium using sound as a navigational tool, introducing a new vocabulary in the form of transitions. The conceptual premise and the formal aspects are intricately interwoven with an exceptional play on technique to extract meaning. Staying true to tradition, she maintains the two dimensionality of the visual, yet creates perspective through movement and visual and sonic layering. The shifts in the foreground and background, aided by the intensity of sound and color breathe a living intensity into the manuscript/ narrative. The amalgamation of eastern classical, western choir, and battle sounds marked with a solo rendition of two verses, create the soundscape of the manuscript. Signifying shifts in the narrative it enhances the impact of the visual.” Haajra Haider Karrar wrote in an essay published in Art Now.
Munawar Ali Syed
Maheen Aziz interviewed Munawar Ali Syed for his Islamabad Project. She wrote: “Munawar Ali Syed is not only a n acclaimed artist but an activist who is on full force for bringing change in the society through arts. Syed doesn’t believe in art as a source of making money but a service which is the most peaceful source of bringing change in the society and in people’s perception, mainly of the general public. With a history of being a part of many major art projects in Karachi like “Rung De Karachi”, “Pur Sukoon Karachi” and “Reimagining the Walls of Karachi”, Syed has been commemorating the public art and successfully achieved the goal to pass on street art to the general public; who now know, understand, celebrate and own street art.”
“Mirza is a true visual voice for the desert, exploring and deepening her understanding of its colour, texture and daily happenings, and thus providing the art world with something fresh and unalike anything seen in a commercial city. Her seclusion from contemporary art trends has allowed the artwork to evolve at a timely pace with results that can solely be credited to Mirza’s individuality. The minimalism with which she creates, eradicates almost all semblance of locality and time, thereby resulting in a painting adorned with perenniality. The work could quite easily be referring to an event of the past, present or future but its equivocal state allows Mirza to be appreciated universally.”
Nayyar Ali Dada
Sarah K Cheema writes that Dada has always been a modernist at heart though his style has evolved from that to a regional modernist with a strong sense of the context and an endeavour to discover the identity of Pakistani Architecture through his designs. Starting his career with mainly residential projects, it was not until the Rivaz Garden Flats, a project of low cost apartment blocks that Dada started experimenting with brick, which would later become a trademark in his buildings.
In a profile written on the internationally acclaimed artist, Waqas Khan, Zohreen Murtaza writes: “The international art world has responded to him with equal enthusiasm as his works are part of prestigious public collections at the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, in London (UK); the Deutsche Bank Collection, Frankfurt (Germany); the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art and the Devi Foudation, both in New Delhi (India) and Kamal Lazaa foundation Tunis. In 2013 he was shortlisted for the prestigious Jameel Art Prize at the V&A. Recently Waqas has won the Art Spectrum award South Asia 2017 in the category of visual arts. Success and accolades have not affected his modesty though and he has no qualms about recalling some milestone moments that became game changers in his struggling career. He recalls with a laugh “When I had my first Solo Show in Karachi at Canvas Gallery, it was held in Ramazan when no one does a Show. Only two people came to my opening! And that is how it started. “Just Hang me on the wall and I will Show you How to Dance!” is what I said to them as I pitched for a demand to have a Solo and stood there with my work around me.”
Zahoor ul Akhlaque
Iram Zia Raja writes in her essay “Zahoor ul Akhlaque’s experiences impacted him differently in different phases of life/chronological maturity. The teaching model envisaging great investment into the students’ ideas was the model of Shakir Ali and that very model was emulated by Zahoor ul Akhlaque when he finally became a teacher in 1963. Zahoor’s early post-graduate years as an artist/student at Hornsey School of Art and later at the Royal College of Art are the most meaningful towards contributing hugely into a mature art practice. He was almost like a sponge ready to take in whatever came his way. Looking at old manuscripts, European painting, classical texts, prepared him for what was to be witnessed later.”