Charting the Terrene: the evolution and devolution of art education in Pakistan

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Charting the Terrene: the evolution and devolution of art education in Pakistan

    In this digitally connected age one can’t help but question the status and relevance of art centers across the globe. The seemingl

The voyager at home
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In this digitally connected age one can’t help but question the status and relevance of art centers across the globe. The seemingly declining role of these spaces makes the debate of center and periphery somewhat irrelevant. In December 2012, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) held a symposium called “Creating the Periphery: Shifting Geography in Contemporary Art.” The opening statement of the seminar stated that the focal point of the art world in current times has shifted from a few major centers to a multiplicity of artistic communities around the globe. However, cultural power is still concentrated in some cities and regions more than others, but the affinities between so-called peripheral locations begin to describe a different geography of contemporary art. In what ways does it still make sense to speak of the periphery at all? Although this is a much bigger debate, I take this opening statement as a cue and deliberately bypassing the long futile debate on the idea of the existence of center-periphery in the context of Pakistan, I intend to explore the artistic terrene in Pakistan. The goal of this essay is to set aside the very concept of center-periphery and trace the establishment of art institutes and art pedagogies in various cities of Pakistan. Next it will reflect on how the geography of the land and other factors such as art centers, art market, and politics played a role in promoting art practices in some regions more than others. After the establishment of Pakistan, there was an effort all over the country (East Pakistan and West Pakistan) to launch itself as a nation-state encompassing all the characteristics/properties of an entire nation inclusive of its art, craft, culture, and tradition. Although, one may question the nature of cultural and traditional tendencies – an important debate for another time, nevertheless, it is imperative to revisit the earlier artistic pedagogical constructions and investigate the circumstances that led to the gradual decline of such initial efforts.



As supported by historical evidence, arguably Lahore is the oldest artistic center of Pakistan no doubt due to its inheritance of the Mayo School of Arts (1875) and the Art Department of the University of Punjab (1942). Establishment of two other major Art centers in Dhaka (1949) and Karachi (1960) followed in the years after. Although art education in the University of Karachi (1990s) and the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture (1989) developed much later, Karachi has established itself as another noteworthy center of art in Pakistan, naturally because it is a metropolis.[1] Artists like Fyzee Rahamin and Hassan Askari were settled in Karachi after the Partition and later other artists such as S. Nagi, Syed Ali Imam, Jamil Naqsh, Ismail Gulgee and many others became the driving force in developing and furthering the art scene parallel to Lahore. It must be worth mentioning here that a private art institute called Karachi School of Art was established in 1964 by Rabia Zuberi, one of the graduates of Lucknow College of Art, India, who migrated to Pakistan in 1960s. The small scale school has produced a number of well known artists such as Lubna Agha, Roohi Ahmed, and Riffat Alvi to name a few. [2] Art Departments were established in Peshawar (1964), Jamshoro (1970), and Quetta (1984) to initiate art education at university level. However, without undermining the role of the small-scale pedagogical efforts, these art departments did not flourish in artistic production as compared to The National College of Arts Lahore and the University of Punjab, or even Karachi University. Much later established art schools such as Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture in Karachi and Beaconhouse National University Lahore are thriving because of its internationally known faculty members and graduates.[3] It would be worth analyzing the factors responsible for such progression. Not to undermine or to doubt the many talented people in Baluchistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Sindh, but one must ponder on the key factors that become the catalysts into bringing those talents to the surface or at par with other fellow artists already celebrated on the global art scene.[4] Are external factors such as the quality of art education, exhibition venues, and exposure to the international art scene, art market, political stability, and government supervision the makers and/or breakers of quality art production? What role does an artist situated within his or her geographic dimensions play in propelling the artistic integrity of their region? Any documentation/records of the history of art education in Pakistan, which might have addressed and shed light on how the art curriculum in different regions of Pakistan developed is sadly lacking. This essay is a small effort in that direction, but by no means does it claim to give a comprehensive picture of the art pedagogies in Pakistan. Rather, it is an initial attempt to trace the footsteps and thought processes of the unknown contributors to this field.[5]



In 1948, right after the independence of Pakistan, Zainul Abedin (1914-1976) already an accomplished artist of Colonial India established the first art institute called the Institute of Fine Arts in Dhaka along the lines of Calcutta Art School (1854).[6] Three other modernist artists (Safiuddin Ahmed (1922-2012), Quamrul Hassan (1921-1988), and S. M. Sultan (1923-1994)) joined Abedin in this venture.[7] In 1964, Chaudhry Muhammad Ali, the Vice Chancellor of Peshawar University, invited Zainul Abedin to establish an art department in his university and hence on September 20, 1964, the Department of Fine Arts inaugurated its two-year certificate program. According to the Peshawar University newsletter, Aks, at the time of its inauguration Abdur Rahman Chughtai (1894-1975), Shakir Ali (1916-1975) and Khan Abdul Ghani Khan (1914-1996), an artist, writer, and son of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan were also present at the occasion. Zainul Abedin headed the department for six months and then left for Dhaka. The two-year certificate program was later expanded to a three-year diploma in Fine Arts. In 1982, the Diploma course was upgraded to an undergraduate three years degree program. The Bachelor of Fine Arts degree specialized in one of the three subjects of Painting, Textile Design, or Advertising and Publicity Design.



Prof. Jamila Zaidi, a well-known art educator, a graduate of the University of Punjab and Slade School London took over the Art Department of Peshawar University in 1965 and remained the Head of the department until 1970. In the five years of her tenure, even with meager resources, she was able to make a substantial effort in promoting art by holding art exhibitions, inviting foreign ambassadors to visit and sponsor much-needed resources in the form of funding equipment in the department. She succeeded in including the Fine Art in the college curriculum and started evening art classes in the department. She continued her efforts beyond the Fine Art education and also initiated Commercial Art and Textile Design in the art department, reflecting her insight in making art education more desirable and even a means of sustainable income. After Jamila Zaidi, several other well-known artists, archeologists, and designers ran the art department including Prof. Ahmed Hassan Dani, Rafiq Hussain, Mushtaq Ahmed, Tayyeba Aziz Ahmed to name a few.



Before the art Department of Peshawar University commenced its program, Abaseen Arts Society was founded in 1955, which was later recognized as Arts Council. The Abaseen Arts Council, just like Punjab Arts Council (now known as Alhamra Arts Council) provided a platform to visual artists, performers, and writers to showcase their work. Furthermore, it also offered classes and training in visual and performing arts. In 1983, the institute was granted a place next to Peshawar High court for a customized building, which included the development of art and music classrooms, exhibition halls and administrative offices. Unfortunately the project was never completed due to the interruption of provincial Directorate of Culture that seized the building. Until the 1960s Abaseen Arts Council was the only training center of visual arts.



In the 1990s, private art schools and galleries cropped up such as Naheed Salim’s Abbottabad Art School and Tasnim Art Gallery by Tasnim Shehzad. In 1995, Sajjad Orakzai established Institute of Fine Arts in Peshawar (this shut down in 2005). Currently, public and private universities across the province have established art departments including Hazara University, Abdul Wali Khan University, Swabi Women University, Shaheed Benazir Bhutto Women University, Iqra National University, Abaseen University and Sarhad University.[8]



In Baluchistan, Agha Akbar Shah, the vice chancellor of Baluchistan University invited Jamal Shah with his fellow artists Akram Dost Baloch and Kaleem Khan to commence the Fine Arts Department in the University. The three of them who had recently graduated from the National College of Arts Lahore developed a two-year diploma course and started the program in 1984 with a group of 12 students. Faryal Ali Gauhar, then wife of Jamal Shah, also joined the team and taught a course called History of Culture, while Jamal Shah taught Sculpture, Art History, and Art Appreciation. Kaleem Khan, taught drafting and drawing and Akram Dost taught Graphic Design and Printmaking. The program was designed on the model adapted by the National College of Arts Lahore. The trio was young and ambitious, determined to bring a change in the region. Two years into the program, Jamal Shah left for England for higher studies at Slade School of Art. Kaleem Khan and Akram Dost held the fort and continued the program. Meanwhile, Kaleem Khan also took over the charge of the Arts Council Quetta, where he taught drawing and painting. One of Kaleem Khan’s protégés’ Abdul Hameed Baloch, a well-versed landscape painter, also taught with him at the arts council. I was also one of Kaleem Khan’s students in 1992 at the Arts Council Quetta and witnessed the challenging conservative atmosphere in which Kaleem Khan strived to teach drawing and painting and prepare students for the entry test of the National College of Arts Lahore. Speaking of the National College of Arts Lahore, it would be worth mentioning here that some of the first few NCA graduates of Quetta include the well-known artists Saeed Akhtar and Dabir Ahmed who both taught at NCA for their entire teaching careers.[9] From the early 50s the National College of Arts Lahore has a 50 percent quota of seats for students from Sindh, Baluchistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Azad Jammu Kashmir, FATA and Gilgit Baltistan. [10] The remaining 50 percent had always been reserved for Punjab. Since1984, Akram Dost Baloch and Kaleem Khan while keeping up with their studio practice continued to teach at the Fine Art Department. In 2010, Kaleem Khan had to withdraw from the Arts Council Quetta, where he served for 25 years when the institute was converted into a Directorate of Culture by the provincial government. Later, Kaleem Khan also retired from Baluchistan University and briefly taught at the University of Punjab but then went back to Quetta to teach in a private university, where he is currently the Director of the Fine Arts Department at the Baluchistan University of Information Technology Engineering and Management Sciences Quetta. Akram Dost continued to teach at the Baluchistan University until 2018. Meanwhile, many young pupils went to National College of Arts to study art, design, and architecture including Akram Dost Baloch’s younger brother Jamil Baloch, well-established artist now residing in Lahore and myself. However, none of us returned to Quetta.[11] Kaleem Khan, in his telephonic interview, recalled that Mrs. Salima Hashmi, Zahoor Ul Akhlaq, Mian Ijaz ul Hassan and few other senior faculty members of NCA paid a visit to Quetta in the mid-70s. They also held an exhibition of paintings which included works of Syed Ali Imam, Shakir Ali, Muhammad Asif and many more at the Arts Council Quetta to showcase the kind of work produced at NCA. The visit and exhibition was all part of a recruitment plan. Kaleem Khan vividly recalled many female graduates from Punjab University, including Sheherbano, Zareen Ashraf and Mrs. Gul who taught drawing and painting at the American Center and Arts Council Quetta in the early 70s. The presence of art teachers coincided with the establishment of Pakistan Television services in Quetta, when quite a few designers moved to Quetta for their job at PTV.[12]



In 1970, A. R. Nagori, a student of Anna Molka and a graduate of the University of Punjab established the Department of Fine Arts with a two-year Bachelors program at the University of Sindh, Jamshoro. [13] The program was designed along the lines of Punjab University’s curriculum. Nagori retired from the chairmanship of the department in 1995.



Although this essay is not a complete survey of art education in Pakistan, it gives some idea of the beginning of art education in Pakistan in areas other than the two main centers of Lahore and Karachi. The common denominators in all these centers of art appear to be the National College of Arts Lahore and the University of Punjab acting as a nucleus in terms of disseminating the educators who introduced, replicated and built upon the adapted modules in various Universities.



The Arts councils across Pakistan seem to have played a pivotal role in inculcating artistic attitudes be it music, dance, writing, poetry or visual arts. [14] However, the enthusiasm and spirit that initiated such programs in the arts councils and art departments set up in the universities have not made much progress in their curriculum or production of artists, except for continuing to establish and furthering the two-year diploma courses to a 4-year Bachelors degree and recently starting MA programs. This stagnancy can be attributed to the lack of exhibition opportunities, galleries, and networking with the well-established art institutes within Pakistan and abroad, which in turn does not foster any exchange of faculty, students, new ideas or fresh analysis of the programs. Another undeniable factor would be the unidirectional journey of graduates from well-established art institutes. Their hesitancy to return to the comparatively slow-paced hometowns they left to explore the world of art can be understood. However, even if one did not invest long-term services in these regions, perhaps just focusing on small measures such as traveling exhibitions, visiting lectures, visiting artists, artist residencies, mutual conferences on art pedagogies etc. may result to the successful inclusion of these struggling art institutes that have been left behind by every artist who strives for more on a personal individualistic level. One of the uniqueness of Pakistani artists that must be emphasized is that most of the well-established artists are affiliated with art education; however, the dilemma is that their concentration is in the two centers.



Another factor that needs to be addressed more widely is the art education at elementary and middle school levels. The way art is currently taught in schools is completely dated for the apparent reason that art education at K-12 is not available in Pakistan except for the three-year Master of Art Education program offered at Beaconhouse National University Lahore, designed and commenced by Dr. Razia Saddiq and Saira Sheikh, both graduates of Columbia University. Recently, Pakistan Institute of Fashion Design has also started a similar two-year degree program called Masters of Philosophy in Art and Design Education. In private schools art is taught as a subject to O and A level students, which is of course aligned with the British education system.




I wonder if in the context of Pakistan considering the earlier statement in this essay that cultural power is still concentrated in some cities, such a discourse of art in center and peripheries even holds any value? Or is it not even worthy of debate given that Lahore and Karachi without any contest are the two thriving centers of art production where all roads appear to converge leaving the rest of the country in a haze of dust, too unclear to even act as a periphery. Unquestionably, there isn’t an equitable distribution of art centers in any country in the world. In the U.S., New York on the east coast and San Francisco on the west coast remain the centers of art given the enormous number of art galleries, museums and art dealers situated there. Other states have fantastic art institutes that have indirectly supplemented the field of art by producing a number of well-known artists. The majority of these artists eventually migrate to the two centers and this constant influx of creative impulse nurtures the centers ensuring they flourish and thrive. One may object to my comparison with the western world, but the point is not that there are only two centers of art in Pakistan; what I stress upon is that there exists a difference of art education in Pakistan, which is too stark, and it needs to be addressed urgently. Perhaps sharing intellectual resources would prove to be vital in reducing this disparity.




[1] Karachi was the first capital of Pakistan.

[2] Information accessed on June 15, 2018.

[3] The faculty at these two institutes include Rashid Rana, Ali Raza, Risham Syed, Unum Baber, Ayaz Jhokio, Ghulam Muhammad, Mehboob Shah, Malcolm Hutchinson, Salima Hashmi, Naazish Attaullah, Adeela Suleman, Saira Sheikh, Shahnaz Ismail, David Elsworth, Huma Mulji, Hamra Abbas, and Naiza Khan to name a few.

[4] Some examples of such talents can be seen in the works of artists like Khadim Ali, Ghulam Muhammad, Ayaz Jhokio, Mahbub Jhokia to name a few contemporary ones.

[5] Information on the establishment of the art departments has been provided by the active members of these art institutes including Dr. Muhammad Sher Ali, Head of the Art Department at Peshawar University, Kaleem Khan, Artist, former Head of the Arts Council Quetta who also taught at the Art Department of Baluchistan University since its inception from 1984 – 2010. Jamal Shah, artist and current Director of Pakistan National Council of Art Islamabad who was the first Head of the Art Department at Baluchistan University and Waheeda Bano, the newly appointed Director of Institute of Art and Design at the University of Sindh-Jamshoro.

[6] One of the four schools established by the British Raj as a strategy to improve the quality of art and craft in India for their export purposes. It must be remembered it was the same school where Ernest Binfield Havell encouraged the Indian traditions in art teaching which later became the catalyst for the emergence of Abinandranath Tagore’s Bengal School of Art.

[7] Lala Rukh Selim, “Art of Bangladesh: the Changing Role of Tradition, Search for Identity and Globalization,” South Asia Multidisciplinary Academic Journal, No. 9, 2014

[8] Dr. Muhammad Sher Ali, Aks , Vol 1, Issue I, II, III and IV, Dec 2016- Feb 2018.

[9] After graduating from NCA, Saeed Akhtar made Lahore his home and established his studio in 1966, where he has been teaching drawing privately.  

[10] The exact initiation date for this quota and ratio for each region is not known but roughly I think that in 1963, when the government recognized the College as an art institution and placed it under the Education Department, it must have officially introduced a quota system to become a more inclusive art institute for the whole country. In a phone interview, Kaleem Khan mentions that Ismail Jafer, Khalid Mengal and Pir Muhammad Tareen were the first few people who went to NCA in late 50s early 60s but didn’t graduate. Saeed Akhtar was the first NCA graduate from Quetta.

[11] Ghulam Muhammad, a Beaconhouse graduate of 2013, who won the Jamil Prize of 2014, also lives in Lahore and teaches at Beaconhouse University Lahore.

[12] Telephonic interviews with Kaleem Khan on June 5, 2018 and Jamal Shah on June 7th 2018.

[13] Akbar Naqvi, Image and Identity, Oxford University Press, 1998, p.520

[14] Although Karachi has not been discussed in detail here, but the Karachi Arts Council was established in 1960 and it was the center of artistic activities until Syed Ali Imam’s Indus Gallery established in 1970 which then became the hot spot of art activities.







Samina Iqbal is a practicing artist, art historian, and an academic. She is an Assistant Professor in the Centre for Media Studies, Art and Design at Lahore School of Economics.