Anwar Jalal Shemza, like any other artist, can be remembered for many aspects of his life and art. His association with writers and language, along with painters is an important facade of his personal history, but he also represents another, significant link in the brief history of Pakistani art: The age of modernity or the era of abstraction, or what is generally referred as Lahore Art Circle. But more than association with a specific city or location, the art of Shemza and his contemporaries was connected to a larger scenario, which included different strands and diverse styles, but all merged into the idea of moving away from tradition and traditional mode of representation.
His contemporaries, who somehow are now forgotten in the current narrative of Pakistani art, belonged to East Bengal. Artists like Hameed ur Rehman, Amin ul Islam, Kibria and many other were creating canvases with sensitive surfaces, which are still admired for their lyrical layering of subtle tones and hues.
Today the art of Bangladesh has become a major voice in the realm of contemporary art. With Dhaka Art Summit it has emerged as an important centre of international art world. Like Dubai, Delhi and several other places, it has affirmed that mainstream art is now mainly made of many streams, flowing in all directions across the globe. It has not only bridged the gaps between regions, territories, and liberated landlocked mind-set, it has put the art of Bangladesh on the world map.
We have a strange tendency of categorizing and classifying creative expressions, first grouping them into provinces, then according to country, eventually under the title of a region, so one often hears demarcations such as Latin American literature, Middle Eastern poetry, East European novels, West African theatre, South Asian art; constructs which remind of the opening line of an essay: If you are going to Peru, send me a postcard from Buenos Aires
In order to evade this tendency of generalizing art and literature of a time and place, ArtNow Pakistan is focusing on the art of Bangladesh, and with essays by Yaminay Chaudhry and Nour Aslam, one can locate the current art practices, since both writers have attended the recently concluded Dhaka Art Summit. The act of looking at other art centres is crucial because it widens the vision and views of visual arts. The March issue has included a broader perspective of art by including profile and interviews of Bina Sarkar and Huma Mulji, two personalities who have contributed to the art and world art in different capacities, and their experiences and histories are relevant for many.
Mainly because art cannot be devoid of life, as it was observed during the KLF, where art, literature and many other disciplines met in order to search for the essence of truth, yet at these occasions, one realizes that there are still many miles to go. However sometimes from certain sections of society, one gets an unexpected pleasure and matter of pride, as what I experienced during my visit to Asian Art Biennale in the nineties, when all delegates were pleasantly surprized on knowing that the opposition parties in Bangladesh called for a nationwide strike, but delayed that date, so the Asian Art Biennale could be held peacefully.
This simple gesture or example is enough to make one believe in art, and to focus on the art of Bangladesh