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Echoes from the Past

Author: Marjorie Husain      Publications: Art– Review (p- 20)      Dated: 28 Jan 1992

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Perhaps it is a lack of modern day creative stimulation that leads artists into the future, looking over their shoulders to a seemingly richer cultural era; the age of the great Moghul Emperor, Akbar. Then royal calligraphers copied books on history philosophy and religion, as well as works in prose and poetry. Akbars curiosity, we are told, was infinite and although he was unable to read, the books were read to him, leading to lengthy discussions between the Ruler and his circle of intellectuals. Artists chronicled Court events and often inspired by music and the changing seasons, created romantic cameos in exquisite miniatures. With the important exceptions of painting and architecture, little now survives of the enormous artistic output that Akbar initiated. Yet, even now, it appears, the art of the Moghul period remains a major inspiration to contemporary artists.

Showing his work at the Chawkandi Art, Clifton, Askari Mian Irani blends frequent references to the past in his paintings, using motits and symbols of traditional Muslim arts. Calligraphy and architectural designs are juxtaposed with figures from Moghul paintings. Princes ride ornamented horses and languid beauties idly play with peacocks, or gaze at their reflections in pools. Askari borrows freely from the Moghul conventions, the expressionless faces of the figures, the treatment of spatial depth and the arrangement of architectural setting, but the overall colour handling and sense of design is uniquely his own.

The artist dilutes his paint with turpentine and linseed oil and develops his paintings using fine, layered areas of paint. Then he turns his canvas around and allows the oil to trickle over the surface of the canvas creating fine lines. In many places the paint is removed exposing the weave of the canvas. The lines are horizontal and vertical as the artist shifts his canvas, the effect is of ancient tapestry and old manuscript. The structural elements, domes, arches, minarets and balconies, are partially cloaked with paint. Nuances of calligraphy are framed by geometric designs. Most unusually, Askari prefers his paint rigs to hang in a subdued light, avoiding spot lights which, he feels, disturb the ecocides of the past.

Askari graduated from the Design Department of the National College of Arts, Lahore in 1967. Initially he had planned a career in advertising and to that end, joined a prestigious ad agency in Karachi. Changing his mind, he returned to Lahore and joined the faculty of the National College of Arts, where he is currently an assistant professor in the Design Department. Askari began painting in earnest, finding his knowledge of design a great asset. From 1968, he began to exhibit his paintings regularly, in galleries and venues throughout Pakistan.

The artists paintings are included in private and national collections in many countries including the Rockefeller Art Gallery, New York, the Modern Museum and Fukuoka Museum, Japan, and important centres in Germany and England. Recently he was invited to display his work at the World Bank Centre, New York, but the programme was deferred owing to the crisis in the Gulf region. Now Askari hopes to hold the exhibition in the coming months. The artist finds that his artworks are very much appreciated by foreign visitors to Pakistan. Perhaps they too find much to admire in the past. Screened from harsh lights, his paintings hold a dreamlike quality. They radiate a subdued lucidity; a reassurance that whatever is destroyed by mankind, the primeval need to express an appreciation of beauty remains.