A Show Of Prints In Karachi

DATED: 27 MAR 1988

FROM one spring to the next means a year in terms of time. In terms of print shows at Karachi, Gallery Chawkandi, it spanned a cycle – from the work of the teacher to that of the taught. From Bartho to Naazish, April 87 introduced Karachites to the prints of an accomplished printmaker, Bartolomev Dos Santos, Bartho for shorte, a professor and head of graphics at the Slade School of Art in U.K. This April, Chawkandi held a show of two printmakers from Lahores NCA, Naazish Attaullah and Anwar Saeed. Naazish had been Barthos student at Slade and her shrouded form series strongly reflected one of her teachers work, entitled Mirror.

Naazishs work at this spring`s show was within an introverted, limited, feminist sphere. One reviewer called her work “an immensely powerful one emotion executed with painstaking precision into tight, neat compositions”. Anwars work was a collection from different series and encompassed greater variety in terms of themes and treatment.

Looking at this springs print show reminded me of the spring past and of how heart had been all in a flutter 1st March at the impending visit to Karachi of Bartho and his prints.

Karachis art scene is a forlorn and deprived as many of its other facets To date, Karachi University is still without a fine arts department. The city does not have either a museum of art or a college like Lahores NCA. Printmaking along with other art forms has suffered. While the city is lucky to have in its midst one of Pakistans most senior and serious printmaker – Meher Afroze – it is equally unlucky in that neither the Arts Council that runs Karachi School of Art where Maher has been teaching for the last fourteen years, nor any of the countless monied art lovers have thought it fit to help the school to have the facilities that printmaking needs.

Given the trying conditions of teaching and printmaking in what is a veritable vacuum, Meher should have given up on both. That she has not, speaks volumes for her tenacity as a teacher and as an artist. That spring before the master printmaker, Barthos arrival, I had previewed Barthos prints along with Meher.

Looking at Barthos prints, Maher had exclaimed at then perfection, saying “he is surely a master of a aquatints”. As equally strongly she had lamented the lack of printmaking facilities in Karachi. Later when l spoke to Bartho he had also pointed out the need of proper printmaking facilities for perfection in printmaking speaking of students at NCA he had said that a lot of them were potentially good printmakers but what they lacked was proper printmaking equipment. If Bartho had through the NCA ill-equipped it was just as well that he did not have a chance to see how ill equipped Karachis art schools were in everything, including printmaking facilities. A two-day print workshop with Bartho had indeed been planned for at Karachi School of Art. As one eveninger wear had pointed out: “if it takes place it will be the most significant event since the first- ever printmaking workshop organised by visiting American artist Ponce de Leon in 1964 at the PACC.”

That workshop will Bartho never did take place, despite the best of efforts on Mehers part because the right people in the right places at the school just did not feel pushed enough to improvise a workshop for the visiting professor. Leaving that aside they could not even arrange aside talk show for Bartho in the Arts Council premises or at the Goethe Institute not too far from there. The still to be inaugurated VM Art gallery had to arrange Barthos slide talk show at the Rangoonwala Hall instead.

So spring 87 which could have been Mehers and other printmakers dream come true in Karachi was quite a nightmare in which Meher specially, kept dreading Barthos visit as an occasion which would show up Karachi in all its art poverty in contrast to the comparative affluent Lahore art scene which by spring 87 Bartho was quite familiar with. Though it was Barthos first visit to Karachi, spring 87 was not the first time that he had visited Pakistan Frailer in 86 Bartho had held exhibitions in Pindi and Lahore and also held a workshop at Lahores NCA at the invitation of his student, Naazish.

And now a year later his visit to Pakistan was to include Karachi. But while his visit to Lahore went as was scheduled with NCAs print and design students taking full advantage of it, Karachi art students could scarcely have profited much by Barthos visit to Karachi But all that is in the past, one spring ago. How about now? The one positive thing is that Karachi has had a series of print shows and in the Meher sees a ray of hope in the publics better acquaintance with prints.

And at the NCA – how have things improved there? As quiet toned Anwar Saeed said: “a whole lot. ln five years time we will have all the facilities and the environment that the finest printmaking department can have” Naazish is happy at having been able to set up a printmaking studio at home where both she and Anwar are able to work.

As Salima Hashmi recently wrote; “Anwar and Naazish have been teaching etching and lithography at NCA now for almost 3 years and have been instrumental in establishing the present department and in reviling printmaking.”

Printmaking at NCA is indeed looking up, with as many as a hundred students a week using it.

Whether it wills ever look-up as much in Karachi remains to be seen However, though the work is competent, it is not a final arrival for Quddus, but a stage in his development as he assimilates his European experience into his own local idiom.

Humera Ejazs solo at the Interiors Gallery was a successful first for her, since she has so far exhibited only in group shows. Feminist issues remain a recurrent motif throughout her work, symbolised in the mask- like female face which appears in all her paintings. But it is her bold exploration of medium and technique, along with a palette that successfully manipulates sombre, earthy tones and vibrant hues, that distinguishes her current work. These acrylics on paper are brilliantly executed, and explore intriguing possibilities of layering texture and colour to bring out subtleties not seen in her earlier work. Humera has clearly not allowed herself to be mired in tried and tested formulas that can inhibit development in new artists, venturing to experiment and redefine her parameters. Whether Humeras forays into technique lead her in an abstract direction or whether she continues to focus on her basic theme by exploiting the mask motif further and in a more direct way remains to be seen. But this exhibition certainly holds out promise of her development as an artist.