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The Art of Shahid Sajjid

Author: Marjorie Husain      Publications: Dawn - Review (p.14)      Dated: 15 Nov 1994

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The friends and family of the renowned sculptor, Shahid Sajjad, have the reassuring confidence of knowing where to find him. He is invariably in his studio workshop.

There one finds him, absorbed in the experience of physical striving, committed to the hard work he sees as the lot of an artist. He has an intimate knowledge of his materials, whether wood or bronze for he has spent his life acquiring that knowledge. His principal motif is the human form, which he carves from various woods including sheesham, and rarely used in carving, willow and mulberry. When the form is freed from the wood, he creates variegated areas of texture and pagination, burning, smoking, rubbing in colour and wax polish with superb effect. Working often fourteen hours, he has energy to spare, for his work constantly revitalises him, Shahids time, his life in fact totally revolves around his art.

The artist was not always so predictable though. In his youth, Shahid travelled much of the world on a motorbike, and followed up with two years in the Chittagong hill tracts. There trees were all around, available for carving. His thorough understanding of wood as a medium of sculpture began at this time.

Shahid Sajjad`s Karachi workshop is a wondrous place, large, with iron girders supporting a roof shimmering with undisturbed swags of cobwebs sparkling in the sunlight. He works surrounded by sacks of plaster, tools of all kinds, moulds, casts, wood and discarded pieces. The workshop holds an impressive foundry with a capacity that encompasses 350 kgs. lt was here that the powerful Nowshera bronze relief was conceived and executed.

Presently the artist is putting the finishing touches to a collection of wood carvings he has been working on for almost four years; six free standing sculptures and twelve reliefs, This is powerful work, which he titled l-Me- Mine; offering a compelling, metaphorical insight into the human psyche. From November 15, 94, the sculptures are to be exhibited in a long-awaited show at the Chawkandi Art, Clifton.

Whenever I study Shahids work and muse on his achievements, it amazes me that he has never received national recognition. He, of course, is very amused by my attitude as awards and rewards mean little to him, his work is its own reward. Although the artist was jubilant to hear that his friend and mentor the Japanese sculptor, Akio Kato, has this year been accorded Japans highest national sculpture award which will be conferred on him in 1995, the much coveted Nakahara Award.

Shahid`s involvement with art manifested early in his life, and developed naturally through stages. First there was calligraphy that came easily to him and won him the approval of his teachers in school. Then he discovered drawing and covered every available surface with sketches. His natural talent in art demanded an outlet, and he began to work at an early age in the studio of an advertising agency, first in Lahore, then in Karachi. Shahids ability earned him considerable success in his field, at the same time he was painting. Yet he never felt truly in tune with the medium of paint. He loathed his 9 to 5 routine, and finally, set off to discover his true metier. He found it in the Louvre Museum, Paris, in 1963. Coming across a wooden statue carved by Gauguin, he became aware that sculpture was his true calling. It was as if he knew the medium already.

Essentially a self-taught artist, Shahid Sajjad learnt the technicalities of his art through experience. From the beginning, his images were figurative. First he started to carve small relief pieces which gradually became larger.  Then he took up the challenge of working on free standing, three dimensional pieces. They too grew large in scale. The sculptor found within himself a response to the raw quality of wood as a medium.

ln the mid-sixties, Shahid headed for the Chittagong hill tracts, where for two years he lived in a jungle clearing, learning the qualities of various strains of wood. Later in London, he joined the Sir John Cass School of Art, where he began a lasting friendship with his teacher, British sculptor, Jim Mathison.

In the 70s, Shahid became interested in bronze casting, and in 73, while travelling in Japan, he met the distinguished Japanese sculptor Akio Kato, well-known for his work with bronze casting. From the Japanese artist, Shahid learned the lost wax techniques of bronze casting. Although in use around 8,000 years ago, bronze casting only entered the curricula of art schools in the 60s, perhaps one reason being that the artisans guarded their secrets jealously. The ancient Greek legend of Icarus, whose wax wings melted when he flew close to the sun, is thought to be linked with an early lost wax casting method.

Shahid maintains links with Akio Kato who now teaches at the Musashino University of Art, where the sculpture department alone, Shahid maintains, is larger than all the art schools in Pakistan put together. Recently returned from a short sojourn to Japan, Shahid met Kato San who was very excited by the photographs of Shahids work. He and his fellow art professors were insistent that the work should be shown in Japan. But that is all in the future.

Shahid Sajjad refers to his collection as “my primitives,” taking himself as an example of mankind and reflecting the hidden beings within all of us. Two superb sculptures are interlocked figures, carved from within the same block of wood. He calls them; one is Not without the Other. The ethos of the work evolves from relationships. Particularly the irrevocable differences. as the artist sees them, of the relationships between men and women; able to make physical contact yet they remain spiritually distanced. From this source much magnified, he philosophises, spring all the problems of the world. The anthropoid appearance of the sculptured forms, depicts the self, man carries behind a veneered surface of modernity and civilisation. The primeval instincts remain the same but intensified without the respect and awe early man had for earth and nature.

I-Me-Mine, three figures carved in relief carrying a fourth prone form, is the fragmented self`. The ego, the libido and terrifying ignorance. The dead figure represents past knowledge, man`s discarded finer instincts. The sculptors natural and formidable talent confirms that art, sincerely conceived, inspires the observer with a deeply felt sense of awe.