Etched in the Mind

Author: Sairah Irshad | Publication: The Herald - Fine Arts (p.124) | Dated: Apr 1988

Printmaking, considered an integral and vital part of the artwork of the west today, has been largely neglected in Pakistan. But things are changing, and contributing to this change in a substantive and qualitative way are two artists with an over three-year stint a professors at Lahore’s National College of Arts. They have not only breathed life into the college’s virtually nonexistent printmaking department, but made it a popular course of study.

Exhibiting at Gallery Chawkandi in early April, Naazish Ataullah and Anwar Saeed display a collection which is a study in contrasts and discipline. Naazish has produced a series of prints (broken up into groups of two and three) based on her perceptions of, and empathy with the woman’s experience. Her expression is an immensely powerful one but it is not a sentimental exercise. The emotion is controlled, executed with paints taking precision into tight, neat compositions.

There are no overt statements in Naazish’s work, merely suggestions. She uses symbols; sometimes abstract ones like the conch shell, at other times more direct ones like the chadar, as her vehicles of expression. These symbols, however, are first subjected to a process of experimentation. They are broken apart, put together and transformed, until they evolve a language entirely their own.

But there are other prints where Naazish is more literal. Etched into a seemingly inner space are shrouded, wraithlike figures. Around them is an intricately ornamental frame, broken and jagged at its outer edges. One gets the feeling of looking into a picture, as though through an open window, and beyond into some mysterious dimension.

The exactness of Naazish’s prints testifies to her technical skill as a printmaker. It is, however, ironically the almost clinical perfection of her work that at times perhaps makes it appear somewhat detached. In actual fact, Naazish’s involvement with her work at both the intellectual and physical level is almost passionate. But it is a passion she has channelled into a fine discipline.

At the other end of the spectrum is Anwar Saeed’s work. Anwar’s prints – mostly photo etchings – are a highly-charged collection of images that evoke at once a jumble of responses. Anwar has chosen to illustrate a wide range of themes: Karachi, apartheid, Faiz’s verses on Palestine, Nawabpur. The diligence with which this work has been executed is clearly apparent. But though its expression is intellectual, it is visibly born of a raw gut reaction to the various issues he has chosen to work on. However, though the imagery is highly evocative in both its emotional and visual content, it is sometimes in surfeit, creating images that remain isolated, rather than forming part of a complete, unified composition.

Nevertheless, there are some outstanding prints on display. Anwar’s ‘Unborn’, a less crowded, more intense price of work with its subtle gradation of tones and intelligent division of space, is a fine example of the  artist’s control over his medium. Anwar is successful in creating mood and atmosphere. Because of the vigour he infuses it with, his work is a living narrative of the world he exists in. His prints therefore remain etched in the mind.

The tedium of the printmaking process and the constraints the medium imposes, often add up to a formidable proposition. Both Naazish and Anwar, however, seem to have admirably overcome the challenge.

The exhibition is a study in contrasts. Naazish has honed her passions into a precise discipline. Her prints are fine examples of her technical expertise in this medium. Anwar’s expression, though an intellectual one, springs of a raw gut reaction. He infuses his work with a vigour that makes it a living narrative of his environment.