In March of every year, our focus shifts west, as the international art world gathers in the Gulf for the Sharjah Biennale and Art Dubai, the leading art fair of the Middle East, South Asian and North Africa region, of which we are proud to be a media partner. The Art Dubai put on a spectacular show, breaking records with its most successful edition to date and ArtNow was once again an active participant in the fair with a series of Terrace Talks and the presentation of Lifetime Achievement Award.
Pakistan had a strong showing at the ninth edition of the fair, with two galleries exhibiting and a host of artists from Pakistan and the diaspora featured in the Contemporary programme. Karachi’s Canvas Gallery showed in the Contemporary section of the fair for the first time with a booth dedicated to the Sindhi artist, Ayaz Jokhio. ArtChowk, which previously exhibited the works of Zahoor ul Akhlaq in the Modern section, focused this year on the sculptures of Shahid Sajjad.
The Modern Galleries, focusing on modernist art of South Asia and the Middle East, were introduced last year to the fair, with artists who though they remain largely unknown outside of the regions, have been towering figures in their local art worlds. Being able to view these works by these artists, who created alternative modernisms by incorporating the language of European modernism yet speaking against it, is a step towards creating new, more inclusive narratives of the history of art in the 20th century.
A number of Pakistani artists were shown in the Contemporary Section, including Rasheed Araeen, Hamra Abbas, Adeela Suleman, Bani Abidi, Fahad Burki, Faiza Butt, Abdullah M.I. Syed, Ali Kazim, Lala Rukh, Masooma Syed, Mariam Suhail and Mehreen Murtaza, represented by New York’s Aicon Gallery and Leila Heller Gallery and Mumbai’s Jhaveri Contemporary among others.
ArtNow hosted three Terrace Talks at the fair, beginning with “Interrupting Narratives, Interpreting Territories”, a launch of the Lahore Biennale Foundation with panelists Mohsin Hamid, Rashid Rana and Qudsia Rahim and myself. Founded by a group of leading artists and supporters of the arts, the Lahore Biennale Foundation represents a conscious attempt to reclaim a place for the arts in Pakistan’s national discourse. The LBF is a multidisciplinary foundation that focuses on the preservation and promotion of the visual culture of Pakistan through various research methodologies, resulting in the Lahore Biennale every two years, the first one to take place in fall 2016. The foundation gained a lot of interest and momentum post-presentation amongst the international crowd, and a will to expand its ever-growing network of supporters and partners. The interest was an indicator of the strong presence of Pakistan in the international art community.
The discussion was followed by a conversation on art collecting with the renowkned art patron Rehana Saigol and gallerist Sameera Raja, who spoke about Ms. Saigol’s extensive contemporary art collection and support of young artists. Rehana Saigol has over the span of years been a classical Indian dancer who performed for Queen Elizabeth, the Shah of Iran and Agatha Christie, amongst other notable names, a dramatist and a generous supporter of the arts. She was a pioneer in staging the works of avant-garde playwrights Jean Genet, Edward Albee and Peter Shaffer in Pakistani. Saigol grew up in an art and culture infused environment; the artist Ustad Allah Bux was invited to live in their home; the rooms he used have now been turned into an art gallery. She added that she does not see herself as a patron of the arts, but says that she merely “has an appetite for beautiful things”.
ArtNow was proud to present the 2nd Lifetime Achievement award to Jalal Uddin Ahmed at this year’s Art Dubai Terrace Talks. The Award honoured his significant contributions towards the promotion and documentation of the arts of Pakistan and the Islamic world. Rahat Jalal, Mr. Ahmed’s son, accepted the Award on behalf of his father, to whom he paid a heartfelt tribute, extolling his strengths and endeavours.
The ArtNow Lifetime Achievement Award honours Pakistani individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the fine arts of Pakistan. The inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award was given to the artist, critic and curator Rasheed Araeen at Art Dubai 2014, in recognition of his artistic and cultural achievements.
Jalal Uddin Ahmed, along with his wife Azra Jalal, is the founder of Arts in the Islamic World, the first English language journal on art from South Asia, the Middle East and the Muslim world. The magazine highlighted the importance of researching and preserving traditional Islamic arts, and examining and interpreting contemporary arts with a critical eye in order to understand and contextualise new ideas, expressions and movements in Muslim societies and cultures.
After representing Pakistan at the Third International Congress of Art Critics in 1951, Mr. Ahmed was responsible for affiliating Pakistan with the Unesco-sponsored International Association of Art Critics in Paris. In 1954, he published Art in Pakistan, a book that served as documentation of the contemporary art scene after Pakistan’s independence. After retirement, he joined the FOMMA Trust, the objectives of which include the setting up of museums of modern and contemporary art and art libraries in Pakistan, and went on to publish a series of publications on prominent Pakistani artists. He also helped arrange the first ever exhibition of ‘Art Books and Periodicals from Pakistan’ in India, after which the books were donated to the library of the International India Centre in New Delhi as a reference resource on Pakistan art and artists.
Sharjah Biennale, spearheaded by the redoubtable Sheikha Hoor al Qasami, the president and founder of the Sharjah Art Foundation and one of the most powerful women in the art world, is an ambitious and innovative undertaking. Beginning with the March Meeting 2015 (11–15 May, 2015), Sharjah Biennial 12: The past, the present, the possible invites over fifty artists and cultural practitioners from over twenty-five countries to introduce their ideas of the possible through their art and work. Challenging modes of participation and engagement, The past, the present, the possible invites participants and the public to reflect upon Sharjah, a city and emirate still in the process of imagining itself through education, culture, religion, heritage and science.
Both Art Dubai and Sharjah Biennale provide a platform for artists from the region to share their work in a setting that transcends national boundaries, building networks within emerging art centres and introducing works to an international art audience.
Later this month, ArtNow will host an art section at the Islamabad Literature Festival. ILF, like KLF, has been expanding over the last few years to include all forms of art, not just literature, and has become a space for vibrant and open discussion on social and cultural issues. ArtNow will organise talks, exhibitions and gallery treks for ILF. We hope that this year’s Art Section will work towards advancing Pakistani art, promoting the spirit of creativity, and encouraging critical discourse, all of which are central to ArtNow’s mission. Sign up for our mailing list to remain updated on this and all our other events.
Bye for NOW.