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Studio Visit: Ali Azmat

Located in the barren Bridge Colony near the military cantonment of Lahore is an oasis of culture in the form of Azmat’s home. One enters and feels the warmth that a family home should have, a simple and elegant residence with a finesse embodying his soul and the quality of his paintings. His home is adorned with a collection, from fellow artist and friends, the collection of art, a reflection of self. The house has enough breathing space to offer comfort to those walking in, much as how Azmat himself greets one, with a humbleness and modesty quite rarely seen for someone so accomplished in this helter-skelter world.
I instantly notice and am quite intrigued by the color pallet of his house, mirroring that of his paintings, the hues flowing out from one of his paintings dominating the wall, settling on the interior. Upon inquiring further, Azmat mentions that the credit for furnishing the place goes to his wife and Nayyar Ali Dada, an icon of architecture, for the layout. “I have been quite lucky to find such a place” he mentions. Azmat has shifted here quiet recently, but the ambiance and the distant voice of his daughter in the background playing would suggest a longer association.
Azmat talks of a time when he moved from Multan to Lahore back in 1993, to pursue his studies. He recalls being a shy boy, who had trouble adjusting to the new surroundings that he found himself in. “You’d leave the hostel and it was just you and the open sky, with no boundaries and restriction to go anywhere.” Contrary to his statement, he comments that he was not much of a social animal, making frequent trips back home to regain his grounding. An aspect of him is still reflected in his possession, such as the antique cupboard amongst the modern furniture tying him to his roots. For him it was his art that provided him with opportunities, to interact with people from different walks of life and open doors for the future.
Azmat has had a fondness for the human anatomy, long before starting his academic training, an interest which only got further reinforced during his time spent at Punjab University. He, however, like most did not outgrow his love for the human form and still finds comfort in speaking through the figures. Azmat contentedly adds than by the time I finish a painting, I have truly tasted the full force of the figure, taking in the complete essence of it, from the folds of the cloth to the skin and its features, which is also one of the reasons for him to use a textured surface, at times to give the skin a new dimension, aiding him in exposing the art behind expressions.
However, he mentions it does have its’ downfalls and one does get labeled as a figurative painter. For Azmat it is more a matter of what serves his conceptual purpose. Azmat has produced work that did not revolve around figures as seen in the paintings produced for “Siraat-e-Mustaqeem”, in which the imagery focused on the cover adorning a holy book. Azmat clarifies that it just has been so that over the course of time he has found human figures to be the strongest and simplest way to comment on matters dealing with a humanitarian aspect to them.
We discuss the transition of his work, initially dealing with more inter-personal matters developing overtime and touching upon social and taboo issues. To Azmat the transition is like “taking a breath, exhaling what has been inhaled.” Azmat tries to remain sincere to his work, producing art that satisfies his own hunger, commenting through his paintings on matters that affect him most at that particular time – working from within, focusing on his universe and what in encompasses, and only later giving thought to its application on a broader spectrum. For his body of work on “Moorat” the initial inspiration came through his friends’ whom he noticed, over time, change their behavior and body language, as they discovered themselves. This aspect of his friends’ change was a source of curiosity and perhaps to some extent a little disturbing. It was the inquisitiveness that sent him on journey to search for answers about a defiant sect of our society, a concern that turned towards sympathy. He invested considerable time, almost three years, amongst the eunuchs of Lahore, gaining their trust and learning about the ordeals they have to face since childhood, their cultural and familial norms that greatly differ from a ‘traditional’ household. It was such devotion to research that gave way to the Moorat series.
As the discussion comes to a close we head upstairs towards Azmat’s working space – a cozy room entered through a narrow corridor; housing a collection of Urdu literature belonging to his late father-in-law. A rare collection of books dating back to the 60’s perhaps even earlier, a true gem in today’s time of hyper-drive.
The studio space seems more to be a place of self reflection and meditation, with Azmat’s work neatly placed in one corner. A soft board pinned full of art that he appreciates and a slim bookshelf with books of references. A little corner in the studio allocated for his daughter, with a smaller version of an easel like his own and materials for her to accompany him upon his musings; in their journey together. The single bed with the acrylics to one side and brushes lying next to it facing an easel with lights overhead giving the room a hallowed atmosphere, is reminiscent of a space better suited to a miniaturist. Azmat even mentions that had he gone to National College of Arts he would probably have pursued miniature painting due to his own meticulous way of painting and appreciation for the technique.
Azmat over the course of past 15 years has managed to win many laurels and bag a number of achievements – the driving force behind his ambition, being his love for art and the much cherished time spent with family. A shy boy from Multan trying to find his place in a big city has certainly found his place in the world, by being sincere with himself and his work.

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