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Letter from the Guest Editor

Art in Pakistan through a Japanese Eye

 

 

It is difficult to describe art as a subject, because art is a lot more than a mere topic; art is life itself. Japanese art can be traced back to 10 century BC. Most Japanese art endures the mark of widespread contact with or rejoinder to external forces. Buddhism was the most obstinate stimulus providing Japan with a deep-rooted iconography while nurturing a liaison between the visual arts and spiritual expansion. On the other hand Pakistani Art is relatively new with Pakistan in its 70 years of independence. Though still a young country it is rooted into a rich and diverse cultural heritage which blossoms from the magnificent Indus Valley Civilization which dated back to 4 century BC. However, somewhere along the years it has been strife with political upheaval thereby putting a severe halt to the cultural and artistic progress of the nation at large.

 

In a country like Pakistan, art is considered a luxury known to a limited segment of society. Visiting the houses of my Pakistani friends is always a pleasure and honor for me, not only because of the immense hospitality I always receive from the hosts, but also because of the numerous breathtaking pieces of art that adorn the walls of their house.

 

It is ironic though, that art in Pakistan is considered as extravagance enjoyed by a few due to the fact that the most renowned masters of painting have emerged from the nooks and crannies of the lowest segments of society. These masters paint the complexities of their soul into their work; they paint what they grew up watching, they paint what they see through their eyes, and they paint what they envision in their minds. By looking at their art, you are able to see how they have put their soul and spirit into their work.

 

One such example is the art of Iqbal Husain – an artist born and raised in the somewhat notorious red light district of Lahore. With women as his main subject, his work screams of the realities of the area. Unfiltered and striking, Iqbal Husain paints what the society wants to hide. It is only through someone like Husain, who is unafraid of using his birth in Heera Mandi as a subject for his work, that these harsh realities can be reflected on in the form of a painting. His work carries with it a mystifying message which mesmerizes you so completely that you simply cannot take your eyes off.

 

Another Pakistani painter I admire greatly is Anwar Jalal Shemza. I had the privilege of enjoying his art at Tate Britain, London in 2015. To me, his art seems to bring together different aspects of calligraphy, Mughal architecture, and European abstract art in a perfect balance. He is a geometrically a greater and well-disciplined blend of Joan Miro and Wassily Kandinsky.

 

To talk about two Pakistani artists alone will be unfair as there are many more who have carved a niche for themselves in the world of art and taken the global scene by storm. From Ustad Allah Baksh to Chughtai, from Anna Molka to Laila Shehzada and from Shakeel Siddiqui to Shahzia Sikander the Pakistani soil boasts of innumerable artists par excellence. The arts have taken a strong foothold in the academic world with formal art education firmly carving a sturdy niche for itself.

 

With the burgeoning of galleries within Pakistan and with the global market showcasing works of Pakistani artists-from the masters to the contemporaries- I feel quite privileged to be in the midst of Pakistan to witness this progress. The artworks are real treats to your eyes, brain, and spirits – simply amazing.

 

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