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Book Review| An Artist being a Gentleman

 

Who would be a better source to know or comment on a person, but his/her other half. An individual appears different in public to what he/she is at home, among family, especially in the privacy shared and watched by the spouse. One can bluff colleagues, friends and relatives, but one is unable to evade and avoid the gaze of a watchful wife, or the eyes of a vigilant husband.

 

However, a partner in life also provides the information, particularly about a creative person, such that is not possible anywhere else. Necessary. Because in order to comprehend the works of art, one is required to understand private history of the personality, since making of art – depends and emerges from the deep recess of personality. The book An Artist and a Gentleman on Moyene Najmi (1928-1997) presents an in-depth view of a painter who participated immensely in shaping, perhaps the first art movement of Pakistan, what is now described as ‘Lahore Art Circle’, and included names such as Ali Imam, Anwar Jalal Shemza, Ahmed Pervaiz, Kutub Sheikh, S. Safdar along with Hanif Ramay.

 

This long due monograph on the painter, is penned by Attiya Moyene Najmi, so a reader is able to glimpse rare photographs, and traces private moments, reads anecdotes about the painter and his friends and gets insight on his creative process. Published by Allied Press (Pvt) Limited, Lahore in 2018, the book offers some of the important works by the painter as well as reproductions of posters for his students’ exhibitions when he was teaching art at the Aitcheson College Lahore. He was a dedicated, imaginative and inspiring tutor, who managed to infused the spirit of art in those young boys, some of them later to become major artists of the country. One of them, Ijaz ul Hassan, always mentions the inspiring and guiding personality of Moyene Najmi.

 

The painter’s “contribution to art scene in Pakistan can be measured in the obvious pleasure he derived from teaching art and inspiring young art students, as well as encouraging and promoting other artists through his work in the art councils, and in his own art gallery”, which was part of his residence in Lawrence Road, Lahore. All that history is recounted in the book, since close friends of the painter, like Khalid Iqbal encouraged the hesitant author to take this task, because “when you write something, you become a writer.” Hence the book started to take form, after she “began to collect Moyene’s work and approached other people who had known him”.

 

The book is important for various reasons. First, it makes us recognise an important painter who is partially mentioned in the current discourse of art. Although in the past a small volume on his work was published by PNCA, Islamabad. The main factor for this neglect is in “Moyene chose not to paint frequently”. Yet if one looks at his works reproduced in the book, one realises the great significance of these art pieces. Najmi, at an earlier phase of Pakistani art sought to explore the link between past and present, between tradition and modernity, between vernacular and imported. So in these works, one traces images of Mughal buildings, garden, historic structures of Lahore, transformed in shapes and forms that remind of abstract art’s sensibility, and Cubism. A young painter looking at his work today, can still learn how the polar realities of our time and place can co-exist in a work of art. In that sense, Moyene Najmi has continued to be a teacher, except that now he guides through his canvases. One of his former student, Kamal Hayat reminiscences “In an atmosphere which encouraged conservatism he represented a free spirit and was very much liked by his students”.

 

Like Hayat’s recollections from his days at the Aitchison College, texts by a number of other artists, architects, writers and intellectuals are part of the book. Each recalling his/her encounter with the person thus making a Cubist portrait of the painter. Ranging from Syed Jahangir, Shoaib Hashmi, M Athar Tahir, Habib Fida Ali, Kamal Hayat, Mueen Afzal, Salima Hashmi, Nayyar Ali Dada, and Iftikhar Ahmed Malik, each individual in these recollections emphasis the selfless quality and helpfulness of the artist. Something that reminds of saints’ attributes. Perhaps there was a connection, because “Moyene was born severely underweight so, when he turned five, the family decided to fulfil the promise of his grandfather. Moyene was left at the shrine [of Hazrat Moin ud din Chishti at Ajmer, but] he created such as commotion that the ulema advised the family to take him back.”

 

“Moyene was named after this great saint”!

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