Miniature Views And Expression

DATED: 21 MAY 2005

Miniature view and expression of art in London in the sixties, Zahoorul Akhlaq, studied at length the collection of miniature art at the British Museum, and began to experiment with diverse interpretations and media. One remembers particularly an early experiment with three horsemen executed with charcoal on paper. Zahoor brought about a new concept of miniature painting in a modern context and years later Shazia Sikander created interest in the aesthetic variations and acquired recognition in New York.

Bashir Ahmed heads the department of miniature painting at NCA and one of his students, Imran Qureshi, absorbed the traditional discipline but brought his own innovations into the art form by expressing his views on the world around him. The contemporary miniature phenomenon emerging from the National College of Arts, Lahore, has initiated a great impact overseas on the art in process in Pakistan. Exhibitions have been mounted in high profile art galleries, and works acquired for national collections including those of the V&A Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Fukuoka Museum, Japan. In London the work of artists such as Imran Qureshi, Aisha Khalid and Usman Saeed, was appreciatively reviewed in The Times of London, which wrote, “Usman Saeeds show of miniatures and photographs, which has just opened, is a tribute to the women of Pakistan. Paying homage to a mix of subjects, he strikes a balance between the structured virtuosity of his painting and the spontaneity of his photography.”

An outstanding exponent of the new miniature, Imran Qureshi is often called upon by galleries to curate exhibitions of his graduate students in Pakistan. In October, there was a display of seven fresh young graduates in the city, and again art enthusiasts have the opportunity to view the work of four of his students at the Chawkandi Art. The collective display is intriguingly titled: Segregation, the artists work separated on the walls of the gallery – male from female. It was interesting to see how three of the artists who had previously exhibited in Karachi, had developed their on-going themes since our previous encounter.

Mohammad Zeeshan, continuing to portray innocence juxtaposed with the power of violence, has since his last display in Karachi shown his work at the Fukouka Museum, and earlier this year in Morocco at a gallery in Rabat. Symbolic organic references appear overtly in the guise of a banana: “The first food we eat”, and guns, he explained as representing a desire for psychological dominance, particularly of men over women in society. In the latest sequence exhibited, the seemingly simple images are painted with superlative refinement.

One discerns the shape of a gun wrapped in a dainty pink serviette and the weave of the material is minutely delineated. Zeeshan paints with gouache, exquisite textures in his work created with layers of watercolours “sometimes as many as seventeen layers”. Erotic references in the work are augmented by the fine approach to detail. So delicately executed is the work that one image of a gun shaped, cobblers last, surrounded by fine strands of hair and woven with threads was a triumph of trompe Ioeil. One examined the very carefully to find the threads were after all magically painted.

Shoaib Mehmood graduated from NCA in 2004. His witty sequence of paintings: Just Do It, documented the feelings of an artist, not yet sure of where he fits in, in society but taking as representation the uniform, of trendy youth, designer tee shirts and jeans. The angry subject begins by throwing stones at inquisitive birds, and proceeds to pitch his chosen image, against a lion, symbol of power and the popular shikarr images of Mogul miniatures. Shoaib is a welcome addition to the growing band of interesting painters exploring this art farm.

Bright, beautifully painted shadi symbols were recognizably the work of Maryam Irfan, whose work was selected for an exhibition at the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, Japan, last year. Wonderfully composed, the fragmented images of a landmark event in societys expectations, numerous connotations according to ones own experience and views, are visually a joy and a delight.

Merging traditional and personal symbols, Hajra Yousuf Khan continues a highly personal style that assimilates ironic humour – as in walking the plank to cross the sea- and ambiguous emotions that become the dominant theme of her work. The subject, represented by her feet fated to wander, appears to muse upon the choices and changes that make up ones experience of life rendered in imaginative detail. An exhibition to view more than once.