“Zahoor ul Akhlaq – Friend. Artist. Teacher.” started from 4th to 16th February 2020. The event comprises exhibition display of the artist’s artworks, artist talks and art activities done by art students. The event was organized at an innovative space named ‘The Happieee Place’ I Art Lab situated at Gulberg III Lahore by Sheherzade Alam and hosted by Ayesha Saeed and her team. Virginia Whiles (An artist at Hornsey College of Art) Nazish Ata Ullah (an artist & educationist) Nayyer Ali Dada (an architect) Salima Hashmi (former principal of NCA & artist) Masood Hameed & Ali Raza (art educationist) Gulzar Haider, Sheherzade Alam, Risham Syed (artists) participated as guest speaker for deliverance of memoirs, experiences and observations apropos to Zahoor ul Akhlaq’s life. The talk covers three aspects of him as friend, artist and teacher.
Analyzing his work, it is disclosed that in totality, his works and styles represent a liberated sensibility. The sensibility of visual seclusion or in other words minimalistic susceptibilities can be comprehended through his elements of works. He used to implement color, line, dimension, balance and synthesis in his compositions which formed an effect to his paintings. Zahoor ul Akhlaq describes about his works as, “The word is finite, the image is infinite. I am not entirely responsible for what I have put in view. I share this responsibility with all the poets, musicians, sculptors, writers, artists and people who have, over the years, influenced me. It dissents that I follow those who affect me as an artist. I do not believe that I should devise an excuse for my work, something to, as it were cover it up. These paintings are what they are, as they appear to you, no more, no less”.
While a talk commenced at The Happieee Place, Nazish Ata Ullah sketched out his personality and character and said, “He was not a political person and slogan mongering or was not who shout out to convey his beliefs but his work was completely political. His images and drawings were like a mushroom cloud about the political scenarios of Vietnam at that times. His entire journey of life is one of great investigation that he was trying both east and west at the same time and absorb to learn from that; somehow, he wanted to investigate the situations through his works”
The one of designs for MIT and one for The Program for Islamic Architecture that is based on education series that is inspired from Rehel. He designed sculpture for Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture that was based on idea of book.
Madam Salima Hashmi added her observations and memories of him. She shared that Zahoor was very silent person but it does not mean that he did not communicate, he was sometimes abrupt and sometimes irritating but always astonishing.
A student of NCA at the time of Zahoor ul Akhlaq named Masood Hameed found Zahoor ul Akhlaq a rich person in his personality. Hameed was used to ask plenty of questions to his teachers and to him as well. According to him, he was the person who always act and do according to his own understanding and willing. He told an incident that once he was painting for an assignment in his second year, he passed by and stopped to see his work and then quietly left from there. Hameed was anxious to ask the observation of Zahoor ul Akhlaq about his work. After few days, he came to him and on enquiring his observation, he advised Hameed to be persistent for honesty of his work and gave him moral support for having courage of dealing with arts and do dialogues with himself and highlight it through your art.
Salima Hashmi discussed Zahoor ul Akhlaq’s journey as an artist and as teacher. She disclosed that he had very strong relationship with Shakir Ali and both were introvert and contrarily fond of much talking. They both had very strong unspoken understanding. Both experienced a swear dislocation.
His thesis exhibition was strongly influenced by Shakir Ali. The works of Zahoor that developed during first three years at NCA was much influenced by Shakir Ali. Later on, his work was influenced by an Italian woman named Emsa who came with her husband was architecture, she had very different approach of drawing in lyrical mood of working. It influenced him. He in London at Royal college of art could spend much of his time at Nehru gallery, where he could see great examples of Mughal miniatures. Those years in London gave him idea to how, he should conduct research.
Salima Hashmi shared that he was extremely open-minded artist to investigation of art. He was the artist who enjoyed medium also, he was deeply concerned with materials and mediums. At that time acrylics medium introduced newly and he used to use the medium like the way Perdakht was applied on Wasli surface. In 80s, he was investigating and reinvestigating traditions and western waves to describe the works through.
Mr Ali Raza his student said that he assumed that it would be an easy to research on Zahoor ul Akhlaq but as he started, he found that he had been expended on so many areas. He concluded that no one can confine or categorize his personality or work to some particular kind. His work was synthesis of pre-existence or relevant elements. He analyzed zahoor’s work that he was experimenting with all the elements of art like line, color, shape, space and so on. In retrospective of his work, one can find time line cyclical not linear, actually his work was in progression and revisiting his work. He said that his work was powerful in soul that influenced the art of next generation. Analyzing his signature that was in a particular kind of Tughra script and if one researches the script was used by Ottoman kings for their signatures. He knew Zahoor since 1988 and was unfolding his work constantly. He quoted the example that according to Zahoor the work is not up to the level that does not process the quality of multiplicity and he count it equal to a verse that keep multiple meanings and interpretations.
Risham Syed shared her memories as she was the one of students from his last batch. She considered him mentor rather than a teacher and more of both a friend. He taught his students from basic skills to the in-depth skills. No one could contain him in a single bracket. He was a person, who saying less would convey a lot.
A glimpse on his life unfolds different facets of his life as a forerunner and influential artist of NCA, whose works put forth guidance for upcoming generations. He dealt with variety of mediums which includes painting, print making, sculpture, architecture and graphic design. According to his versatility of dealing with variety of mediums and styles, stylistically he was designated as late modernist and first conceptualist. Zahoor ul Akhlaq pursued to create a treatise for observers of his works. Zahoor ul Akhlaq inclined by Shakir Ali’s modernism. His distinctive approach and consistent experimentation subsume ‘conventionalism’ in all traditional arts of the time that embraces Islamic Calligraphy, Mughal Miniatures, folk art, architecture as well as Western art history, philosophy and literature. In a nutshell, he was a person who had deep concerns with conventionalism but applying modernist and conceptual style to each of his work.