Printmaking in Pakistan

Author: Salima Hashmi | Publication: Creativity

The official projection of any art in Pakistan is both whimsical and ephemeral. Walking into a concert, play, or gallery, one is quite unable to ascertain the real state of any of the arts and to assess the concerns of the more serious or involved artists.

The projection of printmaking in Pakistan also suffers from this same random casualness, and the isolation of printmakers from one another and from society at large is but one aspect of the problem. There is an absence of forums for serious evaluation and criticism of work, and a miniscule audience that understands what the medium entails.

It is therefore a heart warming spectacle to come upon the printmaking studio at the National College of Arts Lahore. As many as one hundred students a week, specialising both in Fine Arts and Design, use the studio, and their enthusiasm is visibly infectious. The two artists responsible for this are: Anwar Saeed and Naazish Ataullah who are to hold a joint show of their prints at the Chawkandi Gallery in Karachi on April 5th.

Anwar and Naazish have been teaching etching and lithography at N.C.A. now for almost three years, and have been instrumental in establishing the present department and in reviving printmaking techniques neglected so far as ‘minor’ art forms in Pakistan.

The tradition of the printmakers or indeed the painters ‘atelier’ is non-existent in Pakistan, although the traditional miniature painter’s workshop was somewhat akin to a master’s atelier. The set-up at N.C.A. then comes as a start to what one hopes will lead to the establishing of print-making ateliers. Naazish has already assembled a press in her own studio, where she and Anwar work together. They also work in the College Studio giving their students the opportunity to see professionals at work, and to experience the feeling of the team-work so essential to printmaking.

Printmaking involves a certain persistence and discipline, because of the inherent slowness of the process. It may take weeks to finalise a plate with the incessant inking, wiping, proofing, and printing of each stage of the work along the way. The acid bath conditions for etching vary from day to day, giving unpredictable results, which can only be rectified through constant experimentation and accumulated experience.

Working closely with the students and with each other has given impetus and a feeling of commitment to Naazish and Anwar. Their work differs strongly from common is what one first encounters. The level of skill and the technical ability to carry through a concept to its logical end is apparent with both of them. They are involved in exploring the medium, bending it to suit their purpose. Their students watch this process, offering comments and participating in the proofing of the plates.

The N.C.A. has been fortunate to host two printmaking workshops by eminent printmakers from Britain. Bartolomeu dos Santos, Head of the Printmaking Department at the Slade has been at the College twice during the last two years. He had conducted an etching workshop, and lectured to the students. Peter Daglish, Lithographer and teacher at the Chelsea School of Art was also at the College in December reviving the dormant lithography section of the Printmaking Department, the first one to be established in the sub-continent in the last century.

The generation of interest in the whole business of printmaking has ensured the beginnings of a group of artists who are now making this medium their major vehicle of expression.

Anwar Saeed who has held several solo exhibitions in Islamabad, studied at the Royal College of Arts, London, after receiving a distinction in Painting from the N.C.A. in 1978. His work is highly figurative, narrative, and charged with meanings that suggest themselves from association of images. Textures are subservient to forms which emerge from the ground, and are almost threatening in a feeling of enforced silence. There is an ominous quality about the formal relationships found in the images.

Naazish Ataullah is one of the few dedicated printmakers that we have. Trained at N.C.A. and at the Slade School of Fine Art in London, she returned, to teach at her Old College if Lahore. Her own work has matting during the last two years and moved from an involved formal aspects of her a deeper insight and with the relationship between content and the means of expressing it. Her earlier work was taken up with the search for indigenous motifs as a vehicle for exploring her medium.

She has now moved on-to devising visual statements about her milieu, through the evolving of certain personal symbols which take a host of meanings. She had earlier worked on the form of the ‘Chaadar’ exploring its voluminous form and looking at its formal possibilities notwithstanding its other psychological connotations. The interest in its form though still apparent, is now imbued with deeper meaning in her shrouded figures which appear through apertures, reminiscent of monumental architectural buildings. Dark clouds assemble above these apertures, signalling merciful rains, or perhaps just expectancy and hope that they will one day come? The woman’s experience forms the warp of Naazish’s work and it is sustained by the weft of her chosen medium. The skills that she has developed as an etcher are obvious and are creatively employed to put her imagery across.

Both artists are strongly committed to their environment and yet seem quite aware of the large mainstream. Their work is contemporary in idiom, although they employ very different means. It is also a strong emotional response to the whole predicament of living and working creatively in Pakistan today. What strikes one about the work in this two-person show of etching is the level of intellectual enquiry, and the subtlety of its creative statements.