Coming Of Age


Pakistani painters have always found miniature painting a rich lode of our multicultural visual legacy and mined it as a creative resource. However, its emergence as a complete art form with a contemporary ethos can he traced to a movement by young Lahore painters that I would like to refer to as neo-miniaturism. While the miniature painting which resurfaced with new vibrancy in the 1990s was in continuum with time-honoured techniques of painting and substrata preparation, the content had begun to reflect the living culture of our time. This iconoclastic step, taken by the students of Ustad Haji Sharif, delinked miniature from the moribund practices of faithful reproduction and traditional content.

One of the outstanding talents of this movement, Imran Qureshi, and his wife Aisha Khalid, a relatively new entrant in the field, exhibited their latest works at Chawkandi Gallery recently.

“Painting miniature is like expressing yourself in Urdu,” says Imran. Once equipped with the confidence born from the comfort of linking the medium of his dreams with the medium of his expression, it released a creative energy that encompasses humour romance and social awareness with equal ease in his work. No longer inhibited by the social correctness of a naturalised visual expression and the need to compromise on imported metaphors, Imran began to spontaneously weave themes of love and conflict into his iconography. He uses the miniature like a ghazal, the versatile form of Urdu poetry, to articulate diverse issues close to his heart. Perhaps inspired by the same tradition, the artist, in the paintings titled Love Stories, evokes the tender longing of visaal by creating a bed of silken leaves and the serenity of a garden with elegantly foliaged trees of paradise. Its content is constructed from the allegorical idiom of Urdu poetry that measures the pleasure of love in the pain of its longing rather than fulfilment. When concerns as a citizen of the 20th century world surface, he paints displaced people and nuclear missiles with their double- edged values of mass destruction and national honour. On a dark tear-stained newspaper heading stands alone deadly projectile, stark in its bare outline, without the trappings of rhetoric claims. The mirror images of the newspaper headline in the background shows disjointed worlds; “ghalat hain,” “mujahedeen.” Is the painter questioning how the warriors of Islam are unaware that they can be robbed of martyrdom by this indiscriminate press button weapon, or that destruction by nuclear war can be recognised as the ultimate destruction, and denial of Gods bounties? To highlight its danger to the plant world a missile slyly nestles among flowers in the monochrome lower border of the painting.

A lighter mood emerges in everyday scenes of a young mans restless life, a walk in the rain. When preoccupied with the formalistic aspects of his art the miniaturist experiments with spatial divisions. He uses colours and textures to divide it into rectilinear spaces with opaque white dots to denote raindrops or tiny leaves. Held together by the unity of style and the traditional palette of sindoor red, saffron orange and emerald greens, these diverse messages chronicle our age in a vernacular that like a local dialect grows out of its milieu.

Deeply linked to her everyday experiences is Aisha Khalids art. It is work that is dominated by her love for floral motifs which she enjoys painting, and its subtle transformation into feminist emblems. The purdah or curtain that she extensively paints is a multi-layered icon. Not only is the word purdah used for curtain, but also for the veil. Purdah daalna means to conceal. The women in her paintings have a tendency to disappear behind the curtain as if to suggest that much of their lives are screened off. The purdah or wall-like curtain used in many middle class homes to create private spaces within a large more communal space is allegorical of the segmented lives of women who despite their careers, are expected on the domestic level, to recede behind the veil of customs.

Adorned by colourful floral and vegetal sprays, Aishas purdah is used repeatedly to candidly comment on the contemporary worlds obsession with the veil. She refers in her work to how a so-called liberal Scandinavia nation did not have enough tolerance to give a veiled woman her freedom to work in a public place – a prejudice earlier experienced by headscarf-wearing Muslim schoolgirls in France. Visible is the artists outrage at the global typecasting exacerbated by the international medias inability to recognise socially and professionally active veiled women in orthodox communities. The world waits for the curtain to finally rise to the reality of their productive lives.

Paintings dedicated to Zunaira, a young bride who committed suicide when her doctor confirmed that she could not bear a child, raise issues central to a womans social identity in Aishas work. And perhaps more romantic than red roses, is the ECG of her heartbeats that Aisha dedicates to her husband in Tumharay Naam: a clinical ribbon of paper lovingly transformed by her into a love note with delicate images.

Unlike a cerebral painter, Aisha draws from her immediate world. Here she can be seen using her miniature skills to weave an emotive tapestry with empathy, romance, defiance and self-discovery.

In the history of miniature painting, the 1990s genesis of neo-miniaturism will be looked upon as an important evolutionary step that contemporarised its narrative tradition with time identity. Without a doubt, 20th century western art was instrumental in giving the Pakistani artist the nihilistic freedom to articulate in a new visual language and enter a global artistic discourse, Yet the constrains of its idiomatic structure and stylistic roots could never allow it to be an ideal vehicle for the jamaliati zauq or the aesthetic sensibility of the people. Today in the hands of the neominiaturists, miniature painting has founded a cultural paradigm that bridges time and tradition. This new school of painting, while it bears the soul of playful dohas and the passion of ghazal, can speak with equal ease on nuclear warfare ad feminism.

This new school of miniature painting, while it bears the soul of playful dohas and the passion of ghazal, can speak with equal ease on nuclear warfare ad feminism.