The dynamics between an ustad and shaghird transcends the prism of academia; the close rapport not only allows a transmission of knowledge from one to the other but also implicitly carves the shaghird’s identity. The apprenticeship offers a lifelong learning curve through which the progeny gradually synchronizes his/her mind to that of their mentor while shadowing their behavioural mannerisms. The students are recognized as successors to the ustads during the novitiate and are often traced to their position in the exclusive pedigree. Most of the creative disciplines denizens to the local platform were soused with this custom. Like music, dance and literature art – and deep-seated miniature to be specific – was no exception. Although alive, the tradition does not flourish as much as it used to centuries ago as the praxis soon took a plunge once we turned heads towards the west to replicate their structure.
Acclaimed artist Naveed Sadiq captures the dyad in his fourth solo exhibition “Perpetual Layers.” Held at Sanat Gallery, the exhibition frames the ustad-shaghird duo to closely inspect this waning practice.
Treated as a field of study, miniature is not just a skill one can acquire but is irrefutably a form of practice that requires adapting to a particular lifestyle with ceaseless perseverance. Sadiq displays this relentless struggle of perfecting oneself through the repeated iconographies. By making references to Mughal and Persian miniature, he toys with the various student-teacher dynamics; however the student remains constant across the series. A vasli-maker seemingly prepares his work surface amidst the brewing chaos. A presence of another being individualizes the context in each piece as the lone man is recurrently ambushed by an entity that morphs itself as either another human figure or a feral creature attempting to lock heads. Undeterred, the silhouette is engrossed in his perpetual efforts to improve himself – something which Sadiq connects with at a personal level. The figure exhibits himself as a stamp or a signature to identify the artist with. Sadiq acknowledges the learning process further accelerates his insatiable yearn to seek more about himself, about the history of the land he associates to, and about the prologue behind his chosen discipline.
A citron-like organism oscillates in almost all his pieces. Overlooked by the placid figure, the looming bubble is unavoidable to the viewer’s lens as it violently ricochets across the gallery from one visual to the other while leaving marks of blood-red splatters. Foreshadowing something ominous the organic form seems unattainable as it clashes with and escapes the rigid frames or the stationary grids that the artist incorporates to intervene in its trajectory. Perhaps the coalesce is a reflection of Sadiq himself where he examines his controlling facet by introducing inflexible lines alongside a free spirited orb that bursts with vigour and creates ripples across the series.
The artist has also introduced a printmaking method in an otherwise customary miniature technique. Chine-collé allows an image to transfer to a surface that is bonded to a heavier support in the printing process and Sadiq not only uses cut-outs to meld in his composition but also veils the entire visual with rice paper. The elaborate layering and evident play of textures reiterate his quest to decipher the physical as well as intangible matter and stretches discussions on the history and context behind materials and materiality. Moreover it creates a hierarchical account as one is left questioning who surfaces dominant at the top and who lays subdued at the bottom. The layering functions as a fascinating way of storytelling.
Sadiq considers his miniatures to be an inspection of materiality. He seeks profound insights into their meanings both conceptually as well as physically which surface in the visual narratives. The ambivalent meaning behind material and materiality as well as their context to our land becomes a contested subject in and of itself. The discourse is charged with philosophical and aesthetic implications as well as with the multivalence of the material. This undeniably invites time as a key player as Sadiq recounts the past and ties it with the present. He appropriates period imageries, uses a range of mediums, and layers multiple surfaces to produce a cacophony where each element appoints itself as an agent on historicity.
The work in itself is an evident diptych in the form of a two page spread as the compositions thoughtfully align to resemble an open book with illustrations. It is not surprising to receive these as visual diary entries since dialogue performs a vital role in Sadiq’s practice. A relevant intervention, the linear grids enhance the feel of a journal and additionally evoke a sense of remembrance of school notebooks we once owned copious amounts of.
Inarguably the orthodox mode of teaching between an ustad and shaghird is strikingly aberrant from the Anglo-centric education – a latter colonial import. The institutionalized infrastructures and the teacher-student model within these two genres are further distinguishable from that in the education Sadiq receives currently abroad. Sadiq is pursuing his Masters degree in London and a year away from his native country has undeniably yielded him with an opportunity to dissociate from himself to scrutinize his identity and of his homeland. He uses this dais to gauge a fresher perspective on the lineage of miniature and to discern the contrasts between the student-teacher twain that he either experienced, witnessed or is undergoing at the moment. He incorporates conversational phrases that remind one of an introductory exchange between a teacher and student during orientation. The imposed texts bear familiarity to interactions in and outside institutions; as would have been for Sadiq in a foreign environment. Several words on the contrary echo a banter with the self that ostensibly interpret as a personal manual for the artist himself.
The words “teacher, student” unfortunately do not contain equal potency as “ustad-shaghird.” In fact the Urdu term emits beyond its mistakenly substitutive counterpart and finds a dearth of words in English that justifiably soak its essence. However, it is fitting to sermonize the term in its proper context. This legacy – although encapsulated in the post-independence history of miniature (amongst other creative expressions) – has been a constant presence that defeats time before borders were allocated. For generations this paradigm has been a distinct characteristic of our land until post -Colonial Eurocentric education influenced every aspect of our daily living. The ustad-shaghird lineage is an omnipresent phenomena in South Asia – or at least it once was. Sadiq, who is anchored in tradition yet immerses himself in the contemporary uses his stance to keenly monitor the scuffle between the two routes and to judge how they come together. The artist being a sensitive observer grants his work to shape itself into his personal appraisal of the dichotomic conundrum.