Man is usually described a social animal, but whether one follows that definition or not, there have been a grey area between mankind and animal kingdom with its boundaries blurred. If you believe in religious narrative of the Creation, or subscribe to the Theory of Evolution, in both versions man is the last, and the latest among the group of species.
Animals are part of human existence. They surround us as pet, we hunt them, use them for food as well to protect our skin. Animals, the earliest companion of human beings, as John Berger explains were not only the first subject of art, and first metaphors, they provided the earliest materials for art making in the form of their blood, bones, fat, and hair.
Since the drawings of bulls, bison and other creatures in the cave of prehistoric period, till our times, animals have been a favourite, important and meaningful motif for image-makers. These were drawn and sculpted as gods, sacred and mysterious beings – thus substituted and enhanced the primitive notions of divine. Today we do not believe extensively in the religious significance of animals (although some animals like Buraq, or the horse of Imam Hussain hold a scared and mythological significance for a large number of believers) these still appear being revered entities on national emblems, country flags, and as signs of political parties.
Along with a certain respect or status given to animals, there have been efforts – since the archaic period – to combine human and animal forms. From the earliest found example of sculpture in Germany, to later statues from Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece and other civilizations a number of creatures were composed which were partially human and partially animals. Centaur, Minotaur, Satyr, Sphinx, Ganesh and mermaid are a few specimen towards blending human into animal, which continues to our era, especially through Walt Disney’s cartoons with animals of human characteristics, actions, feelings – and costumes.
What takes place in images can be witnessed in the social discourse and in the realm of language too. Often one hears words of abuse or terms of endearment in which a certain individual is given an animal’s name or personality. Perhaps in the visual arts, one can witnessed this phenomenon in its most widely practiced scheme. Here animals are depicted not just a specie, but a sign for human traits. Franz Marc’s horses and deer, Jamil Naqsh’s pigeons and Tassadaq Suhail’s parrots and snakes all exist as if human beings in different disguises.
The current issue of Art Now Pakistan presents the place of animals in art and culture. The theme is invoked through three essays, as well as the Profile of Jamil Naqsh, the painter known for his sensitive rendering of birds and beasts, and the Interview of Tassadaq Suhail, an artist who constantly draws world of animals being parallel and part of human realm. In his photo-essay Ameen Jan shares a different approach in seeing animals, a view, which is extraordinary and captivating. Along with exhibition and book reviews, the present edition of Art Now Pakistan offers another way to look and locate how man has created creatures from his surroundings, imaginations and fantasies, and collected them in tangible forms, formats and materials, in a way what we inherit today is Noah’s Art, more than his Ark!