A house with striking architecture along with dark burnt bricks, coarse mortar, and old heavy black doors of ebony wood bequeathed the status of Museum on the name of a great modernist artist Mr. Shakir Ali: it is located in a narrow street naming Shakir Ali lane at Kalma Chowk Tipu Block Lahore, Pakistan. The building is a combination of old and new version of architecture. The entrance is divided into two parts from main gate; one is direct entrance from frontal wide black wooden door that opens and into a hall cum sitting room adjoining with a bedroom and an upstairs area that leads to the main gallery area. As the wooden door opens, one may see an enormous portrait of Mr. Shakir Ali hung on the wall. On the left side of this wooden door, there are main stairs on outside area that leads to roof. On the right side of front area, a corridor leads towards the second entering door of main gallery and towards backyard garden, where many events like seminars, workshops, celebrations, and art displays are held in the commemoration of artist’s life. The particular living area that is devoted to great artist Mr. Shakir Ali; displays many significant and memorable articles from his belongings as his commemorations such as old style furniture, framed photograph of Shakir Ali, a beautiful and a furnished bedroom with his assets and artefacts. The gallery area has been constructed into three stories; ground area that is few steps up from the sitting room, basement, and upstairs with a small area for study.
A gallery on ground floor has been dedicated to display the over familiar artworks produced by Mr. Shakir Ali. The basement gallery has been dedicated to highlight art and crafts done by Pakistani artists. The museum is a plethora of arts that not only showcases artist’s life, but also it provides opportunity to an individual artist and in groups to display their artworks. The museum has become an epicentre of visual and performing arts, where different genre such as painting, music, and dance are taught to people interested in learning arts. There adjoining building of use of the Pakistan National Council of the Arts (PNCA) Islamabad is used to organise the museum. This PNCA building provide all spaces for art classes and organises art workshop.
The Pakistan National Council of the Arts converted the Shakir Ali house into museum in 1975, after death of Mr. Ali. Mr. Ali was an originator of modern painting in Pakistan. His style for over two decades and became a principal of National College of Arts in 1961. He acquired his education from foreign educational institutes in various fields of arts such as trained in painting and drawing, mural decoration, classical art, textile designing and product designing. He experienced diverse genres and mediums of arts. Mr. Shakir Ali adopted abstract modern art and laid its foundation in Pakistan for the ardent followers of the genre. In 1962, he had been bestowed a Present’s Pride of Performance award in the field of arts. He died on 27 January 1975.
After his death, his house was converted into a museum as a tribute to his services for arts and for promotion of upcoming art and artists. Mr. Ali as a living legend and his abandoned property became an art legacy and culture. Famous Pakistani architect Nayyer Ali Dada designed the inimitable building. The serenity, peace and calm with a blending of nature and cascade in the backyard takes an individual away from the hassle of business and material life into the placid realm of nature and colours; where any individual soul may create his or her imagination. One may sit quiet and contemplate the inner vision bestowed by nature. Anyone can reveal own inward arousal or may depict outer world, personal thought process or a reaction against social taboo through creative arts produced at this place.
The gallery dedicated to Shakir Ali represents his intensions, soul, and his thoughts through his artworks. The gallery has been devoted to display the artworks of Mr. Ali; stimulating and discloses his individual significant style based on low-key art. His symbols are virtuous and used for his creative endeavours based on traditions, ethnicity of Eastern culture, flowers, birds, and female. His paintings unveil the myths and images of Gautama Buddha, Jesus Christ, Mother and Child, a naked female body, egg-hatching sparrows and colourful flowers. Many renowned scholars, writers, and art critiques of Pakistan have acknowledged his art and services in the promotion of Pakistani art and artists. On studying the articles and publication on his work and personality and being part of an artist practice program that was held at the museum, I feel an intimate connection between the soul of Mr. Ali and the architecture of the museum. I have not met the artist, but as I got an opportunity of attending seminars and reading publications about him. It seems he was an ascetic, who understood and presented the hermeneutic of visions in contemporary style. There felt tranquility in the place that has a power of attraction and a magnetic pull for the devotees of art. One may be conversant with these images, symbols, textures and colours according to own interactions and communication. The art pieces reveal their own stories felt by the artist.
The gallery dedicated for artists has displayed numerous group shows and individual shows, craft displays and other executions. Currently, an innovative program named “Artist Practice Program,” has been launched by the Pakistan National Council of The Arts (Ministry of Information, Broadcasting, National History & Literary Heritage, Government of Pakistan) for providing emerging artists to join the platform and not only explore their creative endeavours, nevertheless to execute their aesthetic ideas and concepts. The program was supported by Mr. Jamal Shah (Director General PNCA) supervised by Madam Amna Ismail Pataudi (Dir/VAD-PNCA/Admin SAM) and instructed and organised by Ms. Hira Siddiqui (NCA Graduate) with her two internees. The program conducted organised 4 sessions with 42 artists.
These artists had been given freedom of exploring and executing their individual style, mediums, and themes. These artists worked in groups and exchanged ideas, methodologies and their thought process with not only fellow artists, but shared with invited senior artists for seeking their opinions and critiques. These senior artists and art educators like Mr. Ijaz ul-Hassan (Chairman Artist Association of Punjab), Madam Rahat Naveed Masood (Art educationist), Mr, Saeed Akhtar, Mr. Bashir Ahmed (senior artist and former art educationists), Mr. R M Naeem, Mr. Atif Khan, Mr. Quddus Mirza, Irfan Gul, Irfan Hassan, Ali Kazim (Art educationists NCA) Madam Risham Hosain Syed (Assist. Prof Beacon house) and Madam Tania Sohail (Lahore Art Council) visited and analyzed the efforts of these young artists. They advised and directed them towards new dimensions. Finally, all artworks produced by these groups of artists were displayed in this particular gallery of the Museum.
Apart from these galleries, the museum possess a library that own some collections of books. In the year 2016- 2017, the Shakir Ali Museum library possessed 3,737 books related art, artists, and culture; this collection grew to 5,000 by the year 2018. Moreover, this collection of precious books, Mr. Ali left an asset of 1000 books as his personal collection. The museum provides opportunity to researchers for enquiring and researching on Mr. Ali. The museum has made publications on the life and artworks.
There held a panoramic range of classical and innovative programs and events like exhibitions, seminars on art and artist life, centenary celebrations of Mr. Ali, ceremonies of tribute to legends. Furthermore, musical festival and Mehfil e-Sama, International Dance Day, international cultural shows, discourse on the artist and art, workshops on visual arts and heritage, Independence Day celebrations and many other events reviving arts are being celebrated with the collaboration of Shakir Ali Museum.
Madam Amna Ismail Pataudi, the Director Visual Art Division (DAD) and administrator Shakir Ali Museum (SAM) is organising the museum with the staff of 20 people. The museum is affiliated with the Pakistan National Council of the Arts (SAM) organised by the Director General Mr. Jamal Shah. Enquiring views on the progress made by Madam Pataudi, she shares her struggle for uplifting visual arts and artists, she unveils that she has worked as an artist, as curator, as coordinator, as administrator, as a deputy director and director of the Shakir Ali Museum. She elucidated:
When I joined Shakir Ali Museum, the building was used for all purposes such as administrational, display of exhibitions and teaching classes etc. We separated the administrational offices from the museum and organised it separately. Managing scarce funds and grants assigned from ministry of culture, we provided opportunity to emerging visual artists for practice and execution of their works of arts. We provided chance of research on Mr. Shakir Ali and arranged many events related promotion of visual arts. It is a hub of arts, culture and we have a tradition to celebrate an ongoing centenary celebration of the great artists Mr. Shakir Ali, and we want to celebrate our living legends as well.
She shares her views and emphasised on the need of expanding the function of museum into a research and publication institute along with researchers and volunteers. She said,
“I have worked on all the posts relevant to the management of visual arts and as I observed after multi-experiences of the field; there is a need of qualified staff trained in the particular discipline of curatorial organisation with a passion to run an arts and cultural museum equivalent to international standards.”
She further explains, “Rather a majority of common people, only students of visual arts or administrative body for visit. Here come fewer people with scholarly mind to inquire about books on art, artist life and art institution.”
Museums are a hub of art and culture that connect our past and future. Great nations are recognised by their precious history, culture, and heritage. Shakir Ali museum provides opportunity to art lover and practitioners for discovery of their hidden abilities and talents regardless being a diminutive institution. In the current changed socio-political scenarios of country, when the political authorities have changed and elected political body is emphasising on taking care and advancement of institutions, we may hope for betterment in future and hope that ministry of culture would pay attention and provide more funds and grants to such institutions that are working with self-revitalising energies. Such institutes should be changed into curatorial and research labs and should be affiliate with universities as a part of research center.