Sadequain — A Muralist Par-Excellence

Manjari Sihare of Saffronart profiles some of the achievements of the renowned Pakistani artist, Sadequain

New York: On November 7-8, 2012, Saffronart will host its inaugural auction of the Art of Pakistan. The auction will showcase an exceptional group of Pakistani works from modern masters like Sadequain, Ahmed Parvez, Jamil Naqsh and Anwar Jalal Shemza and contemporary artists like Imran Qureshi, Mohammad Ali Talpur, Naiza Khan, Ayaz Jokhio, Shazia Sikander and Nusra Latif Querishi. This auction offers Indian and international collectors a rare opportunity to appreciate the richness and diversity of the art created in Pakistan over the last 60 years, acquire some the finest examples of this art, and become part of an important cultural dialogue between Pakistan, India and the rest of the world.

Sadequain (1930-1987) was one of the country’s most prolific artists, and his career has served as inspiration for several artists. Syed Sadequain Ahmed Naqvi, also known as Sadequain Naqqash or just Sadequain, is considered a master muralist and the father of Islamic calligraphy in Pakistan. He shot to fame at the young age of 31, when his work won recognition at the 1961 Paris Biennale. The October 16, 1962, edition of the Parisian newspaper Le Figaro noted, “Sadequain adds up the impression of space, density, volume and the reality of matter, which transforms an abstract thought into a material fact in plastic.”

Two years later, Le Monde et La Vie, Paris, reported in April that, “The multiplicity of Sadequain’s gifts is reminiscent of Picasso.” In his lifetime, Sadequain is said to have painted more than 15,000 pieces including gigantic murals, intriguing canvases, innovative calligraphic works and exquisite drawings.

Between the 1950s and 1980s, Sadequain painted more that 45 murals, donating most to public institutions in Pakistan, India and other nations. Unfortunately, only a few survive. Our guest contributor, Ali Adil Khan, an avid collector of South Asian art and antiquities based in Toronto, encapsulates the artist’s achievements as the premier muralist of Pakistan:

Niilofur Farrukh’s review of public murals titled ‘Art without social barriers’ in the July 14, 2007 issue of Gallery prompted me to build on her thoughts, as she touched on Sadequain’s achievements as an artist and muralist par-excellence of Pakistan.

Her very detailed and articulate descriptions of the colossal mural in the turbine hall of Mangla Dam and the ceilings of Lahore Museum and Karachi’s Frere Hall reminded me of visiting those sites as a teenager some 25 years ago and wondering about the man behind such marvelous creations. While I never got to meet Sadequain in person (a great loss and regret on my part), my admiration for him and his work has never seized to end and multiplied many folds since.

Sadequain loved to work on a large scale and may well have painted more square feet than Michelangelo. I wanted to pickup from where Niilofur left off, provide the mammoth dimensions of Sadequain’s murals, and highlight the work that he has done and left outside of Pakistan. I have used as reference the excellent documentation of Sadequain’s work by S. Amjad Ali in his book titled Painters of Pakistan.

Sadequain
Treasures in Time
States Bank of Pakistan

In 1955, Sadequain painted his first mural in Jinnah Hospital, Karachi. However in my research, I failed to find the dimensions, title and condition of the mural. Working feverishly from August-October 1961, Sadequain completed a mural for State Bank of Pakistan spreading 8 feet x 60 feet titled ‘Treasures of Time’. This mural is Sadequain’s towering masterpiece of his ‘Blue and Ochre’ period. It celebrates the intellectual achievements of man, and highlights 46 major figures divided into five main sections. It is said that in between 1962-63 during his visits to Paris, he completed a mural for the PIA office there. Again, I was unable to find the dimensions, title, condition and whereabouts of that mural.

Sadequain
Saga of Labor
Mangla Dam, Karachi

One feature of Sadequain’s metamorphic skill, an aspect of the vitality of his art, was his unbelievable creative strength and energy. In 1967, Sadequain painted the 180 feet x 23 feet wall of the turbine hall of Mangla Dam in less than 3 months. Titled ‘Saga of Labour’, the artist illustrates the age of progress and industrialisation by beginning with a man using his muscles to break stones and concluding with man using his brain to mechanise, build and develop.

Sadequain
Quest for Knowledge
Punjab Public Library
Image credit: The Sadequain Foundation

After the Mangla mural, in the same year Sadequain painted four murals in Lahore, two for the Punjab University Auditorium, one for the University Library and one for the Punjab Public Library titled ‘Quest for Knowledge’. Again, the dimensions and state of condition of the murals are not available.

In 1968, Sadequain continued to be prolific and held monthly shows in Karachi at the unfinished auditorium of the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs. During this period he produced murals ranging from 18 feet x 6 feet to 28 feet x 4 feet on the 1965 war with titles such as ‘Shaheed’, ‘Confrontation’ and ‘Triumph’. Whereabouts of these is also not available.

Towards the end of 1970, it is documented that Sadequain painted a large mural that he donated to the Naval Headquarters in Karachi and was later shifted to the Pakistan embassy in Istanbul, Turkey. In April 1972, he painted the magnificent ‘Sura Yaseen’ from the Holy Quran on 240 feet long wooden panels and donated it to the Lahore Museum, where it is still displayed. In the first half of 1973, he completed the ceiling of the Lahore Museum titled ‘Evolution of Mankind’.

Sadequain Mural at Lahore Museum
Image credit: The Sadequain Foundation

In 1976 Sadequain painted two large murals, each 56 feet x 12 feet, illustrating some verses of Iqbal for the Sports Complex site for the Asian Games in Islamabad. The mural depicted the struggle of the nations of Asia and Africa. In 1979, Sadequain painted a large calligraphic mural in Abu Dhabi. The dimensions and condition of the painting are unknown.

Sadeqauin
Mural at Aligarh Muslim University
Image credit: The Sadequain Foundation
http://www.sadequainfoundation.com/murals-2

From November 1981 to December 1982 Sadequain visited India and during this time made huge murals, first at the Aligarh Muslim University in copper cut-outs and then calligraphic and figurative murals at the National Geophysical Research Institute in Hyderabad and later at the Banaras Hindu University. Finally he executed in very large size the 99 names of Allah in the Indian Institute of Islamic Research at New Delhi.

Sadeqauin
Mural at Banaras Hindu University
Image credit: The Sadequain Foundation
http://www.sadequainfoundation.com/murals-2

In early 1986, Sadequain began work on painting the gigantic 140 feet x 70 feet ceiling of Frere Hall. This huge mural was titled ‘Al-ardh-o-was-samawat’ (the Earth and the Heavens) and unfortunately was left incomplete due to Sadequain’s untimely death.

Sadequain
Mural at Frere Hall in Karachi
Image credit: The Sadequain Foundation
http://www.sadequainfoundation.com/murals-2

There must be many more unaccounted murals and large size paintings that Sadequain executed during his travels to Europe, North America and the Middle East. I am aware of a few such at the Pakistan High Commission in Ottawa that require preservation and restoration.

Sadequain is undoubtedly one of the greatest artists of the last century that South Asia has produced and the world is now coming to recognise him. There is a dire need to take stock of Sadequain’s works in private, public and corporate collections, and in different locations of the Pakistan Foreign Office and retrieve, restore and preserve them for future generations.

Well-known private collectors of Sadequain’s works in Pakistan should seriously consider entrusting their collections (either on loan or as bequeaths) to the National Art Gallery and museums for restoration and safekeeping in the interest of preserving a national treasure. Examples of such generosity can be commonly seen in national art galleries and museums across Europe and North America, where large collections of national and international art and antiquities have been build from generous gifts and donations of private collectors.

An example of such is a recent teamwork between myself, an heir of a local collector and a Canadian museum, whereby a rare large 5 x 3 feet canvas by Sadequain from his Cobweb Series executed in 1968 was retrieved from a basement of a home and made available to be acquired by the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto. In the end, it was a win-win for all as the masterpiece stayed in Canada and was exhibited in the spring of 2008 at the opening of ROM’s new Christopher Ondatjee South Asian Gallery to be cherished by the growing South Asian community of Toronto. This happened because of the generous donation of the current owner, Mustafa Siddiqui, son of the late Dr Iqbal Siddiqui, a renowned scientist who had acquired the work from Ali Imam’s Indus Gallery in the late ‘60s and brought it to Canada.

Ali Adil Khan is a prolific Toronto based collector and expert of South Asian art and antiquities. Adil has organized numerous exhibitions of South Asian Art in North America including  “Image and Identity: Being Ethnic” and “Cosmic Energy and Tantric Enlightenment: Art of Youngo Verma” which has received widespread critical acclaim. He has contributed notable articles on South Asian art to leading dailies including The Dawn Online Edition and Newsline of Pakistan besides being invited to share his expertise at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Art Gallery of Mississauga and the 14th Asian Art Biennale in Dhaka, amongst others. 

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