Pakistan’s primer art institution, the National College of Arts, recognizing the great contribution of Iqbal Geoffrey published a monograph on the artist, who could be defined as one of the most intelligent individuals on the horizon of Pakistani art. Geoffrey got fame at an age, when many still trying to find their voice, and at a time, when coloured artists were considered persona non grata in the sanctuaries of European and American art – usually described as mainstream art. Veteran artist Ali Imam, a few years before his death recounted his amazement upon seeing a canvas of Iqbal Geoffrey on display at the Tate Gallery, London during sixties; and one must not forget that those were the days when, a man of colour found it hard, nearly impossible to rent a decent room in England, let alone entering a prestigious gallery, such as the Tate.
The reason for that early success is not a surprise when you leaf through this book Be Cause: Iqbal Geoffrey, with text by Syeda Minna Fatima and Syeda Farwa Hassan along with other writers, including Countess Carolina, Professor Quddus Mirza, Sir Herbert Read, and a forward by Dr Murtaza Jafri. The publication provides a vast range of his works, and a short piece of writing by the artist. It was printed for Geoffrey’s solo exhibition at the Zahoor ul Akhlaq Gallery, NCA, but it can be treated and experienced as his ‘continuous’ one person show – preserved in 224 pages of the book.
Herbert Read, much respected and regarded art and cultural critic of the Great Britain called Geoffrey “Astonishing Phenomenon”, and “in 1964 dedicated a lecture at the Wesleyan University in Connecticut: ‘to Iqbal Geoffrey Who Has Entered into an Exclusive Destiny’”. Read’s essay in the book is though Some Observations on Ortega y Gasset’s Philosophy of Art, hence an ordinary reader’s difficulty in making connection between Gasset and Geoffrey, till he comes to passage: “Ortega suggested in The Dehumanization of Art that modern art would always be unpopular because it is extreme: it is essentially unpopular, he said, moreover, it is antipopular.”
Iqbal Geoffrey’s work can be categorized in the same league, and so would be his words. The artist, who practices as a lawyer as well, challenges the status quo with his art, in his acts, and through his court petitions. The main target for him is not generally an outside entity, but his own art, or Art. He destroys it, dismantles it, deconstructs, thus disturbs the established notions of aesthetics, art making and art market. The work reproduced in the monograph confirms the artist’s genius in choosing an existing material or picture and transforming it into a different, actually a new image. One can reconstruct the visual history of an era by recognizing his sources, and analysing his strategies for commenting on the conditions of our epoch.
Iqbal Geoffrey is a politically, socially and culturally aware artist, and this feature appears in his work, but unlike some cynics, he advances the cause of art with an unmatchable vigour. Quddus Mirza in his essay Homeless at Home elaborates on this: “The aspect of being uncompromising in the constant character of Iqbal Geoffrey. His life revolves around cases, petitions, performances and gestures that always defy status quo.” The collages reprinted in the monograph reflect an ever active and alert mind, who diffuses, develops and then depicts the canon of art. A reader becomes viewer when it comes to the art of Iqbal Geoffrey, since most of his work is created on paper; and on small size for that matter. So, reproduced in the pages of a book, it is hardly far from its original format. Holding his monograph in hand is not different from visiting his exhibition, because in both cases, a viewer is swayed by the inventiveness and unexpectedness of his handling of materials, visuals and ideas.
In the case of Iqbal Geffrey, more than a work’s detail or description, the most important fact /information is that it is made by Geoffrey; since each of his art piece bears a unique frame of mind and an unusual frame of reference when it comes to the creation of art. Something not learned at an art institute or picked from a previous master, but embedded in the soul of the artist. Countess Carolina, another contributor to the book believes in the same, that “Art is God-given virtue and a different kind of ‘value-plus’. Best of intentions do not generate art. Art cannot be taught to the uninitiated. It divinely happens and may occur in just anyone including the very you.”
In this case art can include the readers of this review Be Cause of Iqbal Geoffrey and his monograph.