A Word of Thanks & Happy 2013!

Dear Readers,

Here’s wishing you a very happy and prosperous 2013 ! The past year was an eventful one for Saffronart as we introduced an array of new categories and collectibles by way of our auctions and The Story, our new website featuring unique objects in curated collections available for sale every day!

Happy New Year from Saffronart

It was also the inaugural year for our blog launched in April of 2012. In a span of six months, we have come a long way with a readership of 1600 plus. We were happy to feature exciting reviews reports and interviews through this course. Some highlights included a guest post on Arpita Singh’s New York solo exhibition at the DC Moore Gallery, a series of walk-throughs of the Metropolitan Museum’s new Islamic galleries, a review of Zarina’s solo show at the Hammer Museum, interviews withTarun Tahiliani and Shilpa Shah of the TAPI Collection, as well as collectors like Anupam Poddar,and Kamran Anwar weighing in on their favorite lots from our inaugural Pakistani  auction. Other exciting conversations included one between guest blogger Diana Campbell, artist Rathin Barman and gallerists Priyanka and Prateek Raja, an interview with the Director of the ARKEN Museum in Copenhagen and with Beth Citron, the curator of the Rubin Museum on their exhibition program dedicated to Modern Indian Art as also one with  Sarnath Banerjee about his London public art project, ‘Gallery of Losers’.

We thank you for your support and look forward to bringing timely and engaging news, interviews, images and more from our offices around the world. A special word of thanks for our guests bloggers for their contributions. We hope our regular posts on this blog continue to offer you new insights into the products we feature in our online auctions, new ideas about collecting, and also a new perspective on Saffronart.

Best wishes,

Team at Saffronart Blog

Questions of Identity and Innovation: Discussing ‘The Art of Pakistan’

Panel, from left: Dr Virginia Whiles, Faiza Butt and Kamran Anwar

Panel, from left: Dr Virginia Whiles, Faiza Butt and Kamran Anwar

Elisabetta Marabotto of Saffronart gives an overview of the panel discussion on the Art of Pakistan held at Saffronart London last month

London: On 1 November, concurring with the preview for the Art of Pakistan Auction, Saffronart London hosted an eye opening panel discussion on the current situation of contemporary Pakistani art. Speakers at the event were Pakistani artist Faiza Butt, art collector Kamran Anwar, and art historian Dr Virginia Whiles.

The conversation revolved around the emergence and significance of Pakistani art at an international level and also around identity issues and the cultural framing of Pakistani artists.

Dr Viriginia Whiles opened the discussion noting that given the socio-political and economical context, Pakistani art is doing really well both in Pakistan and abroad. As an example a young Pakistani artist, Imran Qureshi, has been chosen as Deutsch Bank Artist of the Year for 2013, and many new galleries are opening up in Pakistan. However, it is generally very hard to make a link between the social, anthropological and economic world with art, and one way of doing it is through collecting which is a passionate involvement with the art.

A packed house at Saffronart, London

A packed house at Saffronart, London

The first question of the evening was addressed to Kamran Anwar about the reasons which prompted his passion for collecting. Anwar explained that he was lucky enough to receive a visit from Sadequain when he was at school in Pakistan. Always being interested in Persian and Urdu poetry, he asked Sadequain to illustrate some of his favourite verses in calligraphy. Sadequain quickly created a fine calligraphic piece for him, and this gift became the first piece of Anwar’s collection. The fact that his father was a collector of antiquities also prompted this passion.

Then, it was Faiza Butt’s turn to analyze the current situation of Pakistani art given her biographical background. Butt was raised in Pakistan, studied at the Slade School in the UK, and currently works between Pakistan and the UK. She said that it was really hard to create works which communicate to people beyond the boundaries they live in. All the fields expanded in a steep way and working for a new audience, the Pakistanis, created a wider range of people she needed to communicate to.

In connection to this matter, Anwar noted the emergence of an interesting ideological debate in branding art within a national context. However, he found he was not entirely sure of what was particularly Pakistani about Butt’s art, but felt that in a way it was. In fact, there are social and cultural references and political influences of the environment which either openly or subtly emerge in her works. Therefore it becomes the owner/audience’s choice whether to read the cultural message.

Butt agreed with Anwar, adding that Pakistani artists are not very keen on being culturally framed as Pakistani artists. They don’t want to be categorized because they don’t want to sell national history and they don’t want to represent the state of Pakistan, but they want to symbolize the tensions and cultural issues in Pakistan. It is a very delicate balance.

However, what is happening now in Pakistan has definitely sharpened the artists’ sensibility in a way. The Pakistani world is very distinctive. To explain, the artist noted that Picasso wouldn’t have painted ‘Guernica’ if there wouldn’t have been the Spanish Civil War. Similarly recent events, war, terror and national tragedies in Pakistan have played a big role in the artists’ world. Pakistani art reflects the aftermath of these happenings. Imran Qureshi’s prize winning work in Sharjah, ‘Blessings Upon the Land of My Love’, created in response to a suicide bombing was used by Dr Virginia Whiles as an example to support this concept. So, in this sense, culture identity can work as an informative process through the creation of art.

Imran Qureshi, Blessings Upon the Land of My Love, 2011 Image Credit: http://www.sharjahart.org/blog/2011/february/sneak-preview--imran-qureshi

Imran Qureshi, Blessings Upon the Land of My Love, 2011
Image Credit: http://www.sharjahart.org/blog/2011/february/sneak-preview–imran-qureshi

Anwar also added that although some Pakistani artists reflect the social condition of the country there are others that want to create art without content such as Mohammad Ali Talpur. In fact the artist doesn’t want his art related to the political situation in Pakistan. His line drawings, where he keeps on repeating strokes over and over again, are created as a meditative process akin to chanting.

Mohammad Ali Talpur, Untitled, 2005 Image Credit: http://www.saffronart.com/auctions/PostWork.aspx?l=7510

Mohammad Ali Talpur, Untitled, 2005
Image Credit: http://www.saffronart.com/auctions/PostWork.aspx?l=7510

In response to this, Butt argued that nonetheless there are certain Pakistani elements that you can’t take away from Pakistani artworks, they are ingrained in the artists and those are what make Pakistani art very distinctive. Besides the cultural and political references, the role of the artists as craft-makers is quite evident, perhaps as a consequence of the lack of an industrial revolution in Pakistan. Butt believes that in Pakistani art there is a distinct mark of human hands and you can feel the intimacy between the artists and their creations. Contemporary miniature paintings are a good example of this ideology. The technique and process remain as before, but they are a starting point for new ideas. One example of a contemporary response to traditional miniature painting are the works of Rehana Mangi, who uses hair instead of paint, but keeps the grid as the main structure.

Rehana Mangi, Ding Dong Series I, 2009 Image Credits: http://alexisrenard.com/art/ding-dong-series-i/

Rehana Mangi, Ding Dong Series I, 2009
Image Credits: http://alexisrenard.com/art/ding-dong-series-i/

Concluding the discussion all the panellists agreed that contemporary Pakistani art could be considered an art of the diaspora, as most of the artists are located outside Pakistan or at least spend half their time abroad. Butt, herself an example of this phenomenon, stated that living between two countries was certainly confusing but it sharpened the sense of an artist and helped her look at things differently. She was glad to not be desensitized by this condition.

The panel also agreed on the fact that there is not much happening abroad in relation to Pakistani art, and that more space should be given to it. Agreeing with the panel, I’m looking forward to new exhibitions and talks on Pakistani art, which would make it more accessible and available to audiences everywhere.

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.

Kamran Anwar’s Top 5 from the Art of Pakistan Auction (Nov 07-08 2012)

Elisabetta Marabotto of Saffronart in conversation with collector Kamran Anwar

“I find these artists and their works to be path breaking within the context of the time they were produced and the sheer ability to handle form with fineness and sensitivity.”

London: I recently had the pleasure of meeting Kamran Anwar in our gallery. Kamran has been a collector of Pakistani Art for many years having built his passion since childhood. He has collected art and antiquities from all over the world.

Kamran is also a regular critic and contributor on the most profound issues concerning the art of Pakistan.

I asked him to tell us which his five favourite lots in our forthcoming auction catalogue are.

Below are Kamran’s top five picks:

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We are looking forward to the panel discussion on 1 November  in London,where Kamran will be one of the speakers along with Faiza Butt. The panel will be moderated by Dr. Virginia Whiles. Stay tuned for an update!

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