Irfan Gul Dahri, the trailblazing artist and curator, in partnership with Jawad Zia, shaping the art world with integrity and authenticity at Numaish
Irfan Gul Dahri, the trailblazing artist and curator, in partnership with Jawad Zia, shaping the art world with integrity and authenticity at Numaish Gah
Before we unveil the captivating world of “Numaish Gah,” let’s take a moment to illuminate the brilliant mind behind its creation – Irfan Gul Dahri. The mere sight of him might lead you to anticipate a somber presence and give a pause, but the moment he graces you with his laughter, the atmosphere shifts, and an undeniable sense of camaraderie fills the air. His laughter, as infectious as it is genuine, reveals a side of him that is approachable, authentic, and deeply connected to the world around him. His well-groomed, salt-and-pepper beard and mustache form a striking contrast, symbolizing his blend of wisdom and vibrancy. In every photograph, an infectious laughter appears as an integral element, puncturing the veneer of his initial contemplative demeanor.
An avant-garde in the realm of art, Irfan Gul Dahri’s dedication to propelling Pakistani art forward is palpable through his gallery, “Numaish Gah.” The very appellation, translating to ‘Exhibition Space’ in Urdu, epitomizes Irfan’s unpretentious and relatable approach to artistic expression. His unflinching embrace of provocative and innovative artworks serves as a resounding testament to his unwavering allegiance to the cause of artistic integrity.
Behind the masterpiece stand two visionary minds – Irfan Gul Dahri and Jawad Zia. Together, they breathe life into this creative haven, each contributing a unique perspective and a shared passion for art’s transformative power.
Jawad Zia, a seasoned collector turned gallerist, brings a rich legacy of supporting artists and fostering creativity. His extensive profile is adorned with the nurturing of talents, offering scholarships to art students, and championing the very essence of artistic exploration. In this partnership, Irfan and Jawad merge their visions, creating a synergy that echoes through the gallery’s every
They adeptly navigate the intricate tapestry of the art market, meticulously upholding integrity to ensure that the financial prosperity of the gallery never compromise their principled stance. In an industry often overshadowed by commercial motives, their steadfast commitment to the vision emerges as a gust of fresh air, imbuing authenticity into their every endeavor.
It is a living testament to a transformative catalyst within the art world. Their mission, to enshrine art as an indispensable facet of human flourishing, resonates through their endeavors, engraving an indelible imprint upon the very fabric of cultural evolution. As we embark upon an enlightening discourse with Irfan Gul Dahri, the visionary artist and curator, we are invited to witness the very core of his odyssey – one imbued with authenticity, audacity, and an unwavering faith in the transcendent power of art to mold minds and hearts.
Maheen Aziz: Why this name? And What is the predominant reason behind the practice of naming most galleries in Pakistan using Urdu language?
Irfan Gul Dahri: I believe in keeping things straightforward and relatable. “Numaish Gah” simply means ‘Exhibition Space’ in Urdu, and it represents our commitment to showcasing Pakistani art with a touch of our cultural identity. As for other galleries, well, I can’t speak for them, but everyone has their reasons, right?
MA: As an artist and a curator how do you navigate the fine line between provocative and controversial artworks, and how do you handle potential backlash from conservative audiences?
IGD: The best synonym there could be for an artist or a person working in creative industry is ‘Brave’, so you have to deal with the criticism in the first place. An artwork could simply be an idea/thought/catharsis/thesis/question/comment or a lived experience that is shared with others when put up for display, if it provokes someone in a positive way (which in most cases is the primary intention of the artists), it serves its purpose in a best way. But if it hurts someone’s ego or bursts their utopian bubble, it’s purely their own problem. With that being said, I also believe that there are various polite yet effective ways of sharing our views with masses, there is no harm in being considerate, after all everyone’s truth is not the same. Besides, living in a troubled country like ours, majority is living at the brink of bursting, being brave doesn’t mean being mean or stupid, better be thoughtful. I seek constructive feedback to create, resolve and make better decisions while negative feedback simply strengthen my will and confidence. Sometimes it even sows a seed of a new idea.
MA: In a world where art is increasingly influenced by commercial interests, how do you maintain the integrity and authenticity of your gallery’s mission?
IGD: I don’t understand how commercial intelligence collide with artistic integrity? Such lame values were implanted in times of ignorance and pseudo-intellectualism. Thank God, that old norm is fading away anyway. Just look around, do I need to quote examples of numerous commercially successful yet authentic, intellectual and technically sound artists? Same goes for the galleries, all we care is to propagate art for the sake of greater good, money is just a byproduct of our sincere efforts which helps us sustain and contribute more. Art revolution often challenges established norms and institutions.
MA: I could not agree more. Do you wish to collaborate with other galleries, museums, and organizations while staying true to your vision?
IGD: Art breathes fresh air into the atmosphere and things evolve, if that is what you call revolution, I agree. The world is changing and it won’t be intelligent if you try to prosper in isolation as collaboration is the key to success. One should always connect with people who share similar vision. Challenging boundaries, critical thinking and networking helps evolve the social and cultural fabric of any society. The dialogue for being receptive to diversity, engaging public on greater level through creative and cultural platforms is what we feel is needed the most in our region. Collaboration for us is to create a symphonic environment which inspires and challenges others to achieve these mutual goals.
MA: Can you share an instance when an artist’s work presented significant controversy, and how did your gallery support their artistic expression while addressing the controversy constructively?
IGD: Mumtaz Mufti (the famous Urdu writer) once wrote, people specially of sub-continent are led by emotions, intellect visits them occasionally. People are naïve, they will let go of the worst injustice being done to them, but may easily be triggered by something which confronts their ignorance, no matter how constructive that thing might be at its core. Anyway, nothing of that sort has happened in the gallery yet, but there had been an incident or two in my curatorial career (which I am not supposed to disclose). I believe a thorough plan usually minimizes the probability of conflict yet whenever it happens, listening to reason, assessing, discussing and finding a mutual ground for concerning parties is what I rely on, for a curator is a mediator in such situations. All I have learnt with such experiences is to choose wisely and then stand bravely with what I feel is right. Art revolution can disrupt the traditional art market.
MA: How do you sustain the financial viability of your gallery while advocating for bold and innovative art forms?
IGD: If you are asking about the art market which has a traditional working model, it can’t survive for long anyway. Change is inevitable and every one working in the art industry has to cope up. But if you mean, what some people ignorantly term as ‘traditional art’, I don’t buy that. Nothing of that sort exists. There could be ways of making art with traditional methods and materials but that doesn’t confine the art to that term. Art, if it can ever be described is destined to have one ingredient in it for sure and that is fresh thought/a novel take, how can that be traditional? If there is any idea that is not innovative, can’t be art at all, let aside being called as traditional art. There would be many artists and promoters of art whose contribution I would acknowledge for fostering the culture of art in Pakistan. They made/make it easy for audience to get their initial lessons of appreciating art, and as time goes by, some of them get seasoned and get a refined taste to cherish what is more innovative and that is the natural process in most cases. Every sort of creative expression has its niche market. Since I am not new in the industry anymore and love what I do, so while advocating the contemporary art, financial viability is not what concerns me the most. Our primary job as a gallery is to design opportunities for the creatives and assist/educate the audience.
MA: Inclusivity and diversity are critical, how do you ensure representation and support for underrepresented artists within your gallery’s programming?
IGD: Coming from a small town of Sindh, and having been through a long journey of struggle myself, I believe I understand the issues of young and underrepresented artists first hand. Throughout my career what I have eagerly wanted is an inclusive society which appreciates creativity and diversity. Numaish Gah’s foundation relies on fostering the young creatives and provide equal opportunity to artists regardless of their Subject, medium, background, age and experience. We have designated slots for fresh graduates, open calls and collaborative projects. We aim to host new media artists and artists working in unconventional mediums. We are committed to represent artists (especially young lot) internationally at various forums. The exhibitions that we have held so far includes the maximum number of young artists. Art has the power to push boundaries and confront societal issues.
MA: How do you strike a balance between art as a form of activism and maintaining an aesthetically engaging exhibition?
IGD: The most significant and positive quality of being human is creativity which should be used to take care of the world that surrounds us. Curation may have initially been about procuring, organizing, caring and exhibiting the works of art but the rapidly changing world has made curators act as creative masterminds who bring forth and facilitate innovative ideas concerning critical social, political and environmental issues. History of art clearly shows that there is neither a static criterion for aesthetics, nor a fixed audience for it. So, what matters most is the intention and purpose that art has to serve and how it can be presented to have a positive impact on people. Some artists may find it challenging to adapt to the evolving art landscape.
MA: How do you provide mentorship and support to emerging artists navigating through the art revolution?
IGD: They say, ‘Everybody wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die’. Wishing only doesn’t take you anywhere, one needs to be self-motivated and have a clear goal. In these strange times, there is too much information to be processed. The peer pressure and bombardment of everything has created more frustration and anxiety then wisdom and motivation. What you lose is your focus and precious time on things that won’t help you anyway. On the other hand, our educational institutions have constantly been ignoring to do something about equipping their students with skills they need in the market and have a promising start professionally. Every artist has their own share of struggle and pain, which shapes them to evolve into a better creative individual. The ones who are self-motivated and have a clear goal are usually receptive to change and learn to adapt. They seek advice, remain persistent, have faith and eventually get what they aim for. I help them understand and practice these key factors along with providing them with needed opportunities.
MA: How do you measure the success of your gallery’s impact on the art community and the broader society, beyond conventional metrics?
IGD: René Descartes, a French philosopher concluded his life-long search for understanding the nature of existence and said, ‘I think, therefore, I am’. The question is why do we think? We think to survive, create, flourish, and succeed! We have come a long way on this planet, and we exist because we have been creating, therefore Art has always been a necessity. We believe in providing the best of Art and Culture to people, for it does same to minds what food does to body. And we are really working hard on getting to represent the contemporary art practitioners from around the globe, keeping our focus particularly on projecting art from Pakistan and MENA region on international arena and having strong ties with various art institutions in the world. Once we start seeing the results of our efforts, we would consider that a significant milestone of our progress.
MA: With art revolution as your driving force, what legacy do you hope your gallery leaves behind in the art world?
IGD: The farther you push art from a community, the lesser you get the best of human beings. Each one of us know that times like these are not easy on people specially of our country. There is a long trail of history filled with struggles, losses and sacrifices, but the same history has marked the success of man over nightmares. The men who find a constructive way in troubled times are the people with the gift of creativity and problem-solving mindset. And that’s the most important work for us, because it revives the collective social, economic and cultural growth and appreciates diversity and peaceful co-existence. Legacy would be too fancy for us, but we would definitely like to be seen as a gallery which significantly contributed in changing the pattern of Pakistani art market and propagated art as necessity, not a luxury.