Home of royal palaces, amusing in culture and history, Bahawalpur is the 20th largest city of Pakistan. The city commemorates a phenomenal heritage and holds the importance of being one of the famous tourist spots in Pakistan that is also a major attraction for archaeologists and historians due to its rich culture and historical values. The food, history, tourism and hospitality of the locals make Bahawalpur a home for everyone.
The rich architectural legacy, monuments and strong forts share the narrative of how this city has grown from dust and evolved with the period of time. But that is it when we peruse through the history of Bahawalpur; how kings conquered the city, the history of Nawabs, sumptuous palaces, etc. Royal palaces and the rulers who had constructed or ruled these palaces are the only benefaction to be discussed in the chapters of history. There is no archival history of the arts; neither in the books nor any physical form of art is present in Bahawalpur. The only art one could find are the ones that are embellished on the walls of the palaces – maybe just to add extra details to the palaces.
It has always been a pity that Bahawalpur, a city known for its historical importance, lacks visual representation of the history or had failed to promote art in the district. To serve the purpose and fill the city with colours, International Watercolor Society, with the collaboration of Sir Sadiq Art Club Bahawalpur, marked Bahawalpur its next destination.
A traveling exhibition of 31 countries comprising of many local and foreign artists displayed their artworks at different spots of Bahawalpur. A delegate of senior artists and media coordinators traveled to Bahawalpur from Karachi and Islamabad to attend the Biennale. The tour would have been incomplete without showing the delegates the rich heritage of Bahawalpur.
Standing tall and glowing like hundreds of fireflies had gathered around, Noor Mahal was the first spot where the delegates were taken to. The elegance and magnificence would shine through the pillars of the palace which had left the delegate awestruck.
Noor Mahal is usually open to the public so the access is easier, unlike other palaces in Bahawalpur. After a rigorous tour of Noor Mahal’s every corner, one would realise that it is not less than a dream to stand under the roof of an ancient palace that had the honour to be ruled by famous names of the history like Nawab Muhammad Sadiq IV.
Bahawalpur Biennale to be started from Noor Mahal was a brilliant idea. All artists settled themselves in the lawn, situated in front of the palace, to encapsulate the beauty. The nice weather exaggerated the view of Noor Mahal and impelled the artists to paint nothing but the beauty of Noor Mahal succinctly surrounded by clouds, birds and greenery.
It was exhilarating to watch artists painting the palace using different techniques and observing it from a different perspective. The scrupulous attention to the details and nimble strokes of the artists made their work stand out from one another. Each artist had a different description and way of producing the work. Not only the locals enjoyed the plein air, but it was also a refreshing experience for the artists themselves.
“It’s really nice to be here at the festival. A lot of students and locals have gathered to watch us paint. I have never been here before but it’s nice to explore this city, especially to paint it which has never happened before in these past years. These sorts of festivals should be organised everywhere in the country to promote culture and art.” Syeda Nadia Raza, senior artist and Media Coordinator, Islamabad.
Ghulam Nabi Qazi, a renowned watercolourist, painted the palace in earthy tones and exaggerated the architecture with shadowing, focusing on the architecture of the palace as most of his work focuses on architecture. “The people of Bahawalpur are welcoming and admired our presence at the Biennale. This is sad to see that there are no art galleries in such an amazing city. The addition of art galleries will help promote art in the city.”
The plein air was incomplete without watching the most awaited demonstration of the watercolour master and country representative of Pakistan, Ali Abbas Syed. His practice revolves around the people of Thar and that what he painted in his demonstration. One would lose a track of time watching his gentle hands playing with colours on the canvas without being troubled. Syed played a crucial role in introducing the watercolour festivals to the cities of Pakistan where there is a lack of understanding and promotion of art. After Bahawalpur, Syed aimed to take the festival to other cities of Pakistan as well.
Saher Shah Rizvi, KTN channel’s morning show host and a Media Coordinator from Karachi, had been promoting watercolour festivals through her morning shows. Being an artist herself, Rizvi encouraged the Bahawalpur Watercolour Biennale and stressed for the introduction of more art festivals and events in such cities where there is lack of exposure, understanding and knowledge of art among the general public.
“This is amazing to capture the view in your eyes, the process in your mind and put the image on the canvas or paper, the brush is your’s, colours are your’s; what more an artist could ask for. This is the freedom that only watercolour medium gives you. An artist would let his/her imagination flow with the colours mixed with water and wait for the magic to happen.” She added
Ghulam Hussain, a big name in the art industry, is the Vice President of Sir Sadiq Art Club at Bahawalpur and Coordinator to IWS of Bahawalpur. Hussain, being a watercolourist himself, appreciated the initiative of IWS and stressed over the dire need of more art festivals in Bahawalpur.
“Bahawalpur is a historic city but this is unfortunate that there is no visual representation of the arts here. This Biennale was arranged with the collaboration of Sir Sadiq Art Club and IWS for three days. I am delighted to have the delegates in the city who have created such a positive environment. Many local artists got the opportunity to participate in such Biennale which is of international level.”
The last day was dedicated to the ceremony which took place at the Salt ’n’ Pepper restaurant in Bahawalpur. Muhammad Ramzan Bhatti, President of Sir Sadiq Art Club with his team members Ali Asad Khan, Khalid Saeed, Kamran Qureshi, Mehzareen Bakhtyar and Irshad Bhatti, Media Coordinator to IWS along with Ghulam Hussain, VP of SSAC, tirelessly worked day and night to make this event possible. From designing the catalog to supervising the event, he made sure to present a top-notch art festival to the delegates and locals of Bahawalpur.
“I and my team are very happy to organise such a huge event. I wish to extend my heartiest congratulations to Ghulam Hussain and all the active members of SSAC whose efforts contributed to make this happen.”
The whole city was present to support and welcome the foreign and local artists, delegates and media persons. The presence of Culture Minister and other Government officials showed the Government’s interest and support for art festivals as well. While addressing the audience, the Cultural Minister committed – perhaps to assuage the need of art spaces in the city at that moment – to allocate budget for the construction of art galleries and museums in Bahawalpur. But until a later time, the paintings were displayed at an allocated space of the restaurant as there was no other museum or art gallery where the exhibition could be arranged.
“We have Art Council and art museum in Bahawalpur, but the misfortune of the city is that they are non-operative. There is no space or place allocated to the artists to display or exhibit their artworks. That is the reason we had to organise the Biennale’s exhibition at Salt n Pepper.” Ghulam Hussain, VP of SSAC and Media Coordinator.
The ceremony honoured the guests and artists with certificates, souvenirs and token of appreciation in the form of an award. People of Bahawalpur were overwhelmed to see an art event happening for the first time in their city and the Biennale pulled a large crowd to the venues to be a part of it.
The kind gesture of the owner of the Salt n Pepper restaurant Bahawalpur cannot be ignored as she showed her full support by allotting her restaurant’s space to the organisers and city representatives to hold a one-day exhibition for the Biennale.
“Whoever has been to Bahawalpur would know that there aren’t any art galleries so the owner of Salt n Pepper restaurant allowed the organisers to use up her restaurant space for the artwork display and the ceremony as she is very fond of art and culture herself.” Ghulam Nabi Qazi shared.
All the local artists portrayed the culture, architecture, traditions and life of Pakistan through landscapes, cityscapes, nature and portraiture and showed proficiency in watercolour medium which was a visual relief for the viewers. It was exciting to observe the blend of contemporary and traditional techniques in all the artworks, let it be local or foreign.
“Watercolour has come a long way now and you can see that watercolourists are challenging the techniques and setting great criteria. I think the up-coming watercolourist will have a lot to learn and explore in this medium.” Samina Mumtaz, Media Coordinator, Karachi.
Three-day Biennale was arranged to bring joy, create a peaceful art environment in the city and, most importantly, to give a wake-up call to the Government to take a few initiatives to encourage art activities in this city.
Bahawalpur is a small district of Punjab and it was surprising to know that there is no visual representation of the history. Nonetheless, eons have passed but no one paid heed to such substantial matter. There is a historical museum in the city yet there is no visual art work present at the moment, nor its spacious enough for art display.
Another reason for arranging this art festival was to bring art to the general public who were more excited than the artists because they had been deprived throughout.
“The artists of Bahawalpur are uber talented but, again, there is no platform in the city. It was an opportunity for the artists to exhibit their work with the foreign masters for which I thank the country representative. I would like to welcome more Biennales and art events in the city. For long-term commitments, the Government should provide funds to initiate the construction of art galleries and museums or at least to arrange such Biennales and art festivals.” Ghulam Hussain said.
Beyond the shadow of a doubt, watercolour medium has evolved and artists have explored hundreds of techniques in it and each watercolourist is a master of her/his own technique, there is no other medium that has this sort of adaptability and freedom. There is no rule book of watercolourists yet it is unforgiving and requires time to master the skill.
To revitalise the importance of art in every big or small city in Pakistan, these Biennales should be organised vigorously. However, the issues of Bahawalpur city should be addressed regarding the non-operative and under-construction art spaces – which are one or two.
An art space is very important for the artists as they need a space where they can exhibit, meet art enthusiasts, exchange ideas, have healthy debates and stay up-to-date with the art world. There is only Ghulam Hussain Art Studio, run by Ghulam Hussain, which has taken up this initiative to organise the watercolour festival for the first time ever.
The lack of exposure to the arts and culture will eventually crush down the motivation of the young and senior artists of Bahawalpur who have invested time, energy and money from opting art as a subject to perusing their career as an artist.
There is not only a need of art galleries but art museums and studios on a larger scale that can nurture young artists and encourage people to opt art as a profession, otherwise without any institute or training center who would like to become an artist when they will see no future in it.
I would end my article hoping to hear the news of at least one new art gallery opening in Bahawalpur before the second season of the Biennale starts.
The International Watercolour Biennale at Bahawalpur was held from Feb 13th, 2019 to Feb 15th, 2019
Participants (local artists):
Abdul Hayee, Akram Dost Baloch, AH Rizvi, Ali Abbas Syed, Afzal Jahangeer, Aamir Jameel, Abbas Ali Naqvi, Anwar Ali, Anum Ashraf, Azra Wahab, Ali Asad Khan, Amina Shah, Aliya Faizi, Farjad Faiz, Ghulam Shabbir, Farukh Naseem, Fouzia Khan, G N Qazi, Ghulam Hussain, Hajra Mansoor, Hussain Chandio, Hassan Qureshi, Hamid Bhatti, Imran Khan, Ishfaq Ali, Irshad Bhatti, Imran Sultan, Javed Iqbal, Kosar Iqbal, Kamran Qureshi, Kamran Khalid, Muhammad Ali Afzal Jalwana, Khalid Saeed, Kausar Bhatti, M Ramzan Bhatti, Syed Moazzam Ali, M Rustom Khan, Mezareen Bukhtar, Makbool ul Haq Awam, Mushtaq Ali Lasharie, Moona Shariq, Muhammad Altaf, M Tabish Silavi, M ehmood Bhatti, Rahimoo, Naish Raf, Nadia Abbasi, Rida Batool, Rabia Tariq, Sajjad Nawaz, Shoaib Asim, Qudsia Nisar, Sharjeel Baloch, Rab Nawaz, Saqib Akhtar, Shaima Umer, Syeda Nadia Raza, Shakeel Aslam, Syed Kashif Ali, Sehar Shah Rizvi, Samina Mumtaz, Saima Qasim, Sumbel, Tariq Zahoor, Saima Aamir, Shahjahan, Tayyba Aziz, Tayyeba Aziz (Peshawar) Zainab Aziz, Zunara Sultan, Zahid Ashraf, Zakir Baloch.
Participants (Foreign artists):
Atanur Dogan, Anna Masinissa, Amer Hassan, Angela Barbi, Azita Dararkah, Alexendra Bryksa, Antonio Requena, Atul M Panase, Alfonsal L Tajeda, Alfred Fredyy, Bea Strugo, Cuneyt Senyavas, Carta Petvini, David Poxon, Dusan Djukaric, Eudes Correa, Endre Penovoc, George Poitis, Ivani Fortunato, Igor Sava, Ilya Ibryaev, John Salminen, Javed Tabatabei, Joe Dowden, Keiko Tanabe, Linda Doll, Leo Calysa, Mong Mong Sho, Massimiliano Fracassa, Nader Mohazabina, Nicoloas Lopez, Natalia Studentkova, Pawel Gladkow, Pareween Karmakar, Pablo Ruben, Pasqualino Fracasso, Rainbow Tse, Rajkumar Sthabathy, Rajat Subhra, Rahul Chakaraborty, Satyan Shree, Sareh Mohebeian, Stainslaw Zoladz, Sanjay Desai, Sargiy Lyysyy, Sasa Marjanovic, Thomas Schaller, Tresa Jorda, Vera Billing, Ze Ze Lai, Zhou Tianya