Cultural influence on art and architecture

A colleague asked me to dedicate a full page to a brief overview of art over the world, starting from Pakistan. Why Pakistan? Simply for the reason that this region of the world is situated at the confluence of central Asia, the Middle East and South Asia. It evidently portrays various features of the Buddhist, Gandhara and Indus civilizations, with much of Greek, Persian, Turkish, Afghan and Arabian civilizations. Since Pakistan was once a part of northern India, the influence of the Indo-Gangetic culture is imminent.

Some biased art historians believe that academic appraisals of Pakistani art and architecture have shown from foreign persuasions, especially those embellishing Islamic influences. They fail to observe that in the art and architecture of Europe, one can never ignore the Christian sway on art and architecture, and specific religious influence the world over on art and architecture.

However, Pakistan has been awfully ignored by many, if not all, historians of art and architecture. Hence the editorial board of IRIS ART MAGAZINE want to create a mix of the magazine’s content to favor the regional art and architecture.

IRIS ART MAGAZINE www.irisartmagazine.com has been upholding the banner of a global art movement. Going though its contents over the past two years, our readers will find very interesting articles, interviews, features and reports on art from different countries with no bias whatsoever.

Coming back to academic appraisals of Pakistani art and architecture in the world, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that in the early post-1947 decades, the artists in Pakistan adopted Modernism not as perpetuation of the First World domination but as a metaphor for change and economic freedom. The city of Lahore being the cultural center of the new nations of Pakistan, it boasted of two art institutions and an expanding artists’ community. Pakistan’s largest, Karachi, had very little post-Partition art activity. With the passage of time, it expanded and got enriched by the arrival of talent as artists migrated from what was left of British India to what had then become Pakistan.

The art from the studios of the Modernists dominated the national art scene by the 1960s. The art of the East Pakistani [now Bangladesh] painters had a tremendous impact on their counterparts in Lahore, Karachi, Rawalpindi and Peshawar, who had yet to reach that mature understanding of the discipline. Artists such as Zainul Abedin had already bridged the gulf between folk art and contemporary art. Mansur Rahi, a student of Zainul Abedin, became one of the pioneer teachers at Karachi School of Art where his pedagogic influence on the young watercolorists heralded an aquarelle revival in the 1980s. Rahi became a faithful exponent of analytical cubism and developed his oeuvre under the influence of this style.

The 60s also saw the American cultural impact on Pakistani urban centers where American cultural centers flourished. Students and teachers, members of the intelligentsia regularly haunted these centers of learning.

Among the Modernists, Zubeida Agha enjoys the distinction of being the first artist to hold a solo exhibition in Pakistan. Held in Karachi in 1949. She was a student of Sanyal and Mario Perlingieri, she was initially drawn to Surrealism. Her later education took place at St. Martin’s School of Art. When she returned back to Pakistan, she settled in Rawalpindi where she continued to paint and support the arts and ran Contemporary Arts gallery.

Ali Imam went to Karachi where he became an important art educationist. In the 1970s, he founded his Indus gallery that initiated in Pakistan the culture of buying art. His student and peers sold art at his art gallery.

A 1947 graduate of the Mayo School of Art, Anwar Jalal Shemza emerged as another Pakistani Modernist. He continued to hold regular exhibitions in Pakistan although he had chosen to settle in UK. His geometric patterns entwined with forms inspired from Arabic calligraphy in vibrant colours.

Sadequain had been a visionary who Sadequain whose work at the age of 31 won recognition at the 1961 Paris Biennial. Much of his work is displayed in public places. His early mural, based on the Dignity of Labor is housed in the Mangla Dam, near Islamabad. He also painted the ceiling of the Lahore Museum based on Pakistan’s national poet Iqbal’s verses that evoked the spirit of man to triumph over odds. He also dabbled in his own form of calligraphy of Quranic verses.

Shakir Ali had personal experience of Modern Art in Paris. After studying art at the J.J. School of Art, he attended the Slade School in London. He also worked in Paris with Andre L’Hote before he went to Prague. Shakir Ali began with a cubist preference. Many of his paintings feature birds which he looked upon as the symbol of personal freedom. He also did some pioneering work in Arabic calligraphy in the 60s.

Bashir Mirza, a disciple of Shakir Ali, made a name with his pen and ink series of portraits of the common folk of Pakistan. He was also responsible for setting up the first private gallery in Karachi. His Lonely Girl series were completed and exhibited in the 70s.

Self-taught Leila Shahzada’s art resonates with the surrealistic. Her Driftmood Series introduced her as a serious talent. The artworks were inspired by the shapes of driftwood found on the beaches of Karachi which the painter’s inner vision had turned into flame like shapes. Her surreal images from ancient Indus valley and Taxila have their own uniqueness.

Colin David’s work focused on Op Art. His typical black and white background design with its linear optical illusion forms an ever-changing relationship with the form. His dynamic patterned space rather than the form holds the interest of the viewer. The nude became his forte and in later series.

Jamil Naqsh, a consummate draughtsman, had studied miniature at NCA but turned to modernism after getting exposed to Shakir Ali’s early cubist paintings. He painted nudes and added pigeons to them. This became the topic of his visual treatise.

Ahmed Parvez’s style was distinguished as he transferred his energy on the canvas with a burst of colour and exploding forms. His early figurative art turned abstract from 1955 to 1964, the time he spent in England where he got inspired by Alan Davie. The Guardian wrote about his exhibitions, “The mood is near Klee as it is to the jeweled ambience of an eastern potentate.”

It was Gulgee’s exposure to Action painting that motivated him to turn to gestural art. He incorporated Arabic calligraphy and textured his works with gold leaf and lapis lazuli. (Continued)