Karkhana: A Contemporary Collaboration

Elisabetta Marabotto of Saffronart revisits one of the most ground breaking exhibitions of contemporary Pakistani Art

Karkhana, Untitled. Karkhana A Contemporary Collaboration

Karkhana, Untitled. Karkhana A Contemporary Collaboration
Image Credit: http://www.aldrichart.org/exhibitions/past/karkhana.php

London: The Urdu word ‘Karkhana’ refers to the miniature painting workshops supported by Mughal Emperors who ruled over the lands of present-day India and Pakistan between the 16th and 17th centuries. In these workshops, several artists would work together on the same painting under the direction of one ‘ustad’ or master.

Following the steps of these predecessors, six Pakistani artists undertook a collaborative project in 2003 under the guidance of Imran Qureshi. The artist contacted the other five Pakistani artists who, like him, had studied at the National College of Arts in Lahore, and who, at the time, were based in different parts of the world. The artists included in the project were: Aisha Khalid, Hasnat Mehmood, Nusra Latif Qureshi, Talha Rathore and Saira Wasim.

As part of the project, each of them had to start two works on wasli and pass them to the other artists who would add further layers of imagery and significance to the original work. Five more works created individually by the artists were added to the project’s exhibition to show their personal characters and styles.

Karkhana, Untitled. Karkhana A Contemporary Collaboration

Karkhana, Untitled. Karkhana A Contemporary Collaboration
Image Credit: http://www.aldrichart.org/exhibitions/past/karkhana.
php

The project aimed to show the influence shared by the artists, their individual reactions to an already painted surface, and their ways in which their idioms spoke to each other. It also aspired to highlight the revival of miniature painting as an important aspect of contemporary Pakistani art, which entailed a comingling of tradition and modernity in fine and meaningful images.

Karkhana, Untitled. Karkhana A Contemporary Collaboration

Karkhana, Untitled. Karkhana A Contemporary Collaboration
Image Credit: http://www.aldrichart.org/ exhibitions/past/karkhana.php

Karkhana was an extremely innovative show, both because of the concept behind the project, and for its affirmation of contemporary Pakistani art in South Asia and the West. In fact, the project culminated in a travelling exhibition, first held in Rochdale in 2003-04, then at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, in 2005-06, and finally at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco in 2006.

Karkhana, Untitled. Karkhana A Contemporary Collaboration

Karkhana, Untitled. Karkhana A Contemporary Collaboration
Image Credit: http://www.aldrichart.org/exhibitions/past/karkhana.php

Hammad Nassar, founder of Green Cardamom, independent curator and writer, noted in the exhibition catalogue: “The nature of the Karkhana project is vast and multi-faceted. It explores the possibilities of collaborative practice and political resistance, the reinvention of a ‘tradition’, and the expression of diasporic identity. It also raises broader questions about globalization and political and marginalization…Karkhana, relying as it does on ‘traditional’ fields of representation, and on the institutionalized art world to arrange exhibitions, fund catalogues, and even to pay the courier bills  for its actualization, is not an activist demonstration but rather, a work of art. It is from this position, in fact, that it derives its political power- subverting elite institutions from within. It updates a historical form (the ‘traditional’ miniature), which served one empire, in order to confront another.  In their refusal to surrender the aesthetic in their art, the Karkhana artists use the very desire that their meticulously crafted and highly encoded paintings elicit to inject themselves into arenas where they would not ordinarily be granted access. At the hearts of the project is a challenge to commonly-understood notions of democracy and the collective.”

More information about the project can be found on the Aldrich Art Contemporary Museum website and in the catalogue, Karkhana, A Contemporary Collaboration.

Ali Adil Khan’s Top 10 from the Art of Pakistan Auction (November 7-8, 2012)

Guest contributor and prolific collector, Ali Adil Khan picks his top works in Saffronart’s Art of Pakistan Auction 

Toronto: My top ten favorite works in the Art of Pakistan Auction have been listed in the slideshow below in order of priority and importance.

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All of the works I have selected are by Pakistani artists who have excelled in contemporary miniature art – in its development and global recognition. This movement is strong, grounded in tradition and has left its mark on the international art scene. The credit goes to the modern practitioners and teachers of miniature art. The oldest and most influential art school of the country, the National College of Arts (NCA) in Lahore, has been a cornerstone in identifying and developing next generation of artists. The Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture (IVS) in Karachi and the Beaconhouse National University (BNU) in Lahore have also established world class programs in fine arts. These institutions offer highly sought after programs in miniature painting that attract the best and the brightest, channel their creativity and challenge their thinking in ways that equip them to push defined boundaries. They subvert traditional practices, innovate and deconstruct miniature paintings to reinvent and revive a movement that we all know as neo-miniature (contemporary miniature) style of painting. Zahoor ul Akhlaq, Salima Hashmi, Ustad Bashir Ahmed, Imran Qureshi, Muhammed Zeeshan and Sumaira Tazeen, among other established artists and faculty of these institutions have been instrumental in paving the road for the next generation of artists. Some stalwarts included in this Auction clearly standout. Shahzia Sikander, Saira Wasim, Nusra Latif Qureshi, Talha Rathore, Waseem Ahmed, Hasnat Mahmood and Khadim Ali.

I have chosen Zahoor’s Farman (Lot 3) as my favorite because of its importance in setting an early direction for the movement. It is composed in the confines of the borders of a traditional miniature painting, yet it is highly contemporary. It is a painting of significant importance given that it is referenced by two important scholars of Pakistani art – Dr. Akbar Naqvi and Roger Connah. The influence of Zahoor on the contemporary art of Pakistan is unquestionable.

Khadim Ali’s painting (Lot 55) incorporates the on-going conflict in Afghanistan and references the destruction of the Bamian Buddhas as well as the prosecution of local Hazaras by the Taliban.

Asif Ahmed’s (Lot 58) versatility and command over detail impresses me. Ayesha Durrani’s painting (Lot 67) is from a series that I have always admired. Her detailing and composition is excellent.

As they say – the devil is in the detail. To read more on my views on contemporary miniature art from Pakistan, click here.

Ali Adil Khan is a prolific Toronto based collector and expert of South Asian art and antiquities. Khan 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 have 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. He has also been 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. Khan is a guest contributor for the Saffronart blog.

Miniatures: Survival of a Revival

Guest blogger, Ali Adil Khan shares his views on contemporary miniature paintings from Pakistan

Lot 21- Rehana Mangi, 3 Figures (Gadrang)
Art of Pakistan Auction (November 7-8, 2012)

Toronto: We are experiencing a modern revival of the miniature painting tradition that is unrivaled. This contemporary miniature art movement, emanating from a premier art institute of Pakistan, while being firmly grounded in tradition, has taken post-modern art by storm. It has a serious following locally and internationally and enjoys the support of curators, gallery owners, critics and collectors alike.

This movement is strong, moving rapidly, and is sure to leave its mark on the international art scene. The credit goes to the modern practitioners and teachers of miniature art. Early visionaries at the National College of Arts (NCA) in Lahore, Zahoor ul Akhlaq, followed by Salima Hashmi, Bashir Ahmed and Imran Qureshi have believed in the talents of their students and designed an ingenious curriculum and an exigent training program that continues to bring the best out of them.

Some of these industrious students have become leading proponents of contemporary miniature art around the world with a broad private and institutional following.

Lot 30 – Shazia Sikander, Let It Ride # 3, 1997
24 Hour Auction: Art of Pakistan (Nov. 7-8, 2012)

Some stalwarts clearly standout. Shahzia Sikander was the first to breakaway from the miniature tradition, and helped establish an art form that is now known and recognised as contemporary or neo-miniature painting. She remains the greatest of them all and there are only two ways to describe her art practice — brilliant and exquisite. She has now entered the mainstream of contemporary art internationally and is a recognised superstar.

Others, who followed her success, have held their values and traditional training central to their practice, not compromising them for quick buck. These trail blazers, who are now in the upper echelon of contemporary miniature art internationally include: Imran Qureshi, Tazeen Qayyum, Aisha Khalid, Talha Rathore, Nusra Latif Qureshi, Saira Wasim and Reeta Saeed. They can be referred to as the magnificent seven of NCA. Others who are fast catching up through their prolific practice, creative talents, and international exhibitions are Waseem Ahmed, Hasnat Mehmood, Khadim Ali, Muhammed Zeeshan and Sabeen Raja.

Lot 31 – Imran Qureshi, Moderate Enlightenment, 2007
24 Hour Auction: Art of Pakistan (Nov. 7-8, 2012)

While Imran Qureshi’s work on wasli exhibited in London, Hong Kong, and Oxford more recently continues to be very strong (as he can probably paint with his eyes closed — meant as a compliment), his site-specific wall paintings at the 1st Singapore Biennale in 2006 was most impressive. It was truly outstanding and definitely leading edge.

The contemporary miniature art market is cut throat to say the least. As a new breed of young artists jumps on the bandwagon, there are bound to be more failures than resounding successes. As experienced curators and discerning collectors closely examine and follow the emergence and development of this trend, they will critique the works of the artists. Any repetition, reproduction, stagnation, mediocrity will be severely penalised. It can be said with confidence that not all currently practicing contemporary miniature artists are good.

The ones that are good and with potential of becoming great, are the ones that are continuously experimenting and pushing the boundaries beyond the restrained borders of miniature paintings. For example, Tazeen Qayyum has consistently surpassed expectations of curators and collectors. In the late 1990s she incorporated borders made from collages of interesting newspaper cuttings and quickly moved away from figurative to contextual use of a motifs such as the veil and cockroach that enabled her to assert her socio-political views on the wasli. She experimented and employed the use of block printing, Xerox photo transfer, and digital techniques in her works of the early 2000s. In 2005, she pasted strands of her own long hair on the wasli. In 2006, Qayyum took wasli to a third dimension by adding labels and entomology pins to her work and changed the framing to box frames. Her depiction of the disgraceful human pyramid made forcibly at Abu Gharib Prison in Iraq using cockroaches with minute details was stunning to say the least.

Lot 45- Sumaira Tazeen, Moti Tanka (French Knot), 2008
Art of Pakistan Auction (November 7-8, 2012)

There are many more promising senior artists who can reach new heights through rigorous experimentation and an urge to push and re-invent the boundaries. They are Ambreen Butt, Sumaira Tazeen, Usman Saeed, Sherbano Qizilbash and Saira Sheikh. Curators and critics will watch them closely as they fulfil the much needed requirement to re-invent and progress.

The survival of the revival now solely rests in the capable hands of these practitioners and new comers into the field who must learn from the success of their predecessors and set high standards for themselves. They should not and must not expect to sell their works for exorbitant prices, as they first need to experiment, prove and establish their art practice. As collector of contemporary Pakistani art, London-based Kamran Anwar notes, “The Pakistani art market is clearly at an inflexion point. The contemporary miniature movement has led the way and holds a distinct place in the South Asian artistic landscape.

“The big challenge for these artists is to continue to innovate and create without falling into the temptation of doing the same thing again and again for short term commercial gains.”

Ali Adil Khan is a prolific Toronto based collector and expert of South Asian art and antiquities. Khan 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 have 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. He has also been 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. Khan is a guest contributor for the Saffronart blog.

South Asian Contemporary Art at New Zealand’s Govett-Brewster Gallery

Manjari Sihare shares details of a new exhibition of South Asian art at New Zealand’s leading contemporary art museum

New Zealand: The contemporary art museum of New Plymouth in Taranaki, the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, is currently hosting the region’s most extensive exhibition of South Asian contemporary art. Sub-Topical Heat: New Art from South Asia features the works of nine artists from the subcontinent, namely Naeem Mohaiemen, Nusra Latif Qureshi, Bani Abidi, Sheba Chhachhi, Raking Leaves, Gigi Scaria, Imran Qureshi, and Sharmila Samant.

Read more about this exhibition.

Govett-Brewster is recognized internationally in the world of contemporary art. In 2009, the Arts Foundation of New Zealand bestowed the Gallery with their prestigious Governors’ Award to acknowledge the institution’s singular commitment to the cause of contemporary art over four decades. Incidentally, this exhibition is not the gallery’s first showcase of art from the Indian subcontinent. In 2009, the Gallery hosted Nalani Malani’s compelling installation, Mother India: Transactions in the Construction of Pain.

Nalini Malani, Mother India: Transactions in the Construction of Pain, 2005 (installation view)
Image courtesy: http://www.govettbrewster.com/Events/EventDetail/e/130/title/nalini-malani.aspx

These exhibitions have been curated by the current Director of the Gallery, Rhana Davenport, a cultural specialist with substantial experience in the field of contemporary art in Asia, the Pacific and Australasia. Davenport is known for her significant experience with international cultural festivals and contemporary art biennial/triennial projects including the Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art at the Queensland Art Gallery, and the Sydney Festival.

The current exhibition opened earlier this month, and will be on view until 4 November, 2012. Sheba Chhachhi, Gigi Scaria, N.S. Harsha and Sharmila Samant traveled to New Plymouth for the opening of the exhibit. The gallery organized a series of short dialogues between each of these artists and Davenport, which are available for free viewing on Youtube (see links below).

Interview with NS Harsha

Interview with Gigi Scaria

Interview with Sheba Chhachhi

Interview with Sharmila Samant 

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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