the-south-asian.com August 2004
Culture & History
Page 4 of 4
Ė the enfant terrible of Pakistan art
at Iqbal Hussainís Cocoís Den and Haveli,
What was your most satisfying exhibition gallery?
Lahore Art Gallery was most satisfying for me. Sheila Saolís place. I had very good shows there. I had a group show and a one-man show. John Walls [World Bank Pakistan Country director] bought a lot of my paintings privately. Then I had a successful show in Islamabad [courtesy the above WB gentleman] that took place in 2003. Before that many foreigners had bought my paintings. Pakistan entered, for the first time, in the south Asian painting exhibition, in 1998, Sheila organized it. My painting was auctioned for four thousand pounds at the London Sothebyís in 1998.
Have you ever been to India?
Yes I have gone to India 3 or 4 times. I have done some group shows in Delhi but they were organized by the government.
Recently M.F. Hussain Sahib was here from India.
Yes he was here sometime ago. He came to the college for demonstration. He also did an exhibition here in Alhamra Arts Council. I canít tell you how the crowd here were doing his puja, praising him Ė but the same crowd never encourages local painters or takes interest in their exhibitions. But such is the mentality of our people. Personally, I have never liked Hussain. What is the big deal in making horses etc? He plays to the audience. Moves around in bare feet Ö.
Personally who do you like as a painter in this region - India, Bangladesh, Pakistan etc?
Frankly speaking I donít like anyone.
Any particular artists /painters whose work has especially impressed you. ?
Sculptures, Paul Gaugin, Leonardo Da Vinci, Rembrandt, Degas. As one grows one changes, but these artists have been influential.
When is a painting finished?
Itís a difficult thing to say. If one over paints, keeps on working, one can spoil it Ö. and if one thinks this is it, and one canít go beyond it, then one should leave it at that. Thatís how I do it, thatís my wayÖ
In your paintings there pervades a seriousness, a heaviness, a sadness and a brooding quality Ė your comments- is this a subconscious element coming out in the paintings?
I think you are right, because the models I paint always have this element. The models sit for months, and because one canít sit in silence, I keep talking to them and 99 percent of this talk ends up in the models tears. Because no one listens to their stories - neither their customers nor anybody else wants to listen to their tragic stories - so this is how I get their respect. I am also involved in that which unconsciously comes in to the paintings.
Can you comment on old Lahore culture and character?
I am saddened by the destruction of Lahoreís old houses. Only during Shabaaz Sharifís time did they pay any attention to this part of Lahore. During elections the politicians make promises and never come back. There is not a single school for children in this area. I have been shouting, but nobody bothers. Kamran Lashari did a great job, of creating this areaís street lighting, because one could not even walk through this area earlier - there were drugs, and are still available easily, although the police tries to control this.
The old walled city of Lahore and its people are very caring neighbours, and straightforward folk; once a model sold her chain to help someone. They are big-hearted; at Hazoori Bagh there are still recitals of Heer Ranjha in the evenings. These people are united and look after each other, weddings, rishtaas are arranged informally on tharas [house entrances], the joint family system is still strong.
What is your advice to young painters of this generation?
My advice to young painters is that they should work honestly and should be more concerned with themselves and their culture, rather than be bothered by whatís happening in New York, or the current fad / fashions. The market should not comm and them, rather they should command the market.Ö.itís a very long struggle for 20 to 30 years ÖÖ
Sadat Hasan Manto made the observation that Muslim women are very hard, and there is no softness .Do you find that is true or is it just a poor generalization.
No, I donít think so; as far as I am concerned, knowing these women over the years and having known the models and having drinks with them, they are more human, more soft, very helpful, its unbelievable ÖÖÖ
What are your views on marriage, love, and womenís suppressed position in Pakistan?
I have a lovely wife. Ours was a totally arranged marriage, and she gave us 6 lovely kids, 5 daughters and 1 son. We are living happily. But you canít get everything in life, especially a painter and I think she played a great role in my life, being patient. She knows my whereabouts and she is very sensible, all the credit goes to her.
What about the high rise buildings/plazas in Lahore?
These big multi-nationals, the McDonalds, etc scare me. Because they have so much money they should be stopped, ÖÖthere should be a stop to all this, but no one seems to be concerned.
There is a Heritage Foundation of Lahore?
Yes it exists. They have done nothing. I have seen houses being destroyed. About 250 houses were recently demolished inside the walled old city. Why donít you preserve them, why donít you give them small loans? What are they going to put up in their place? ÖTheir only response is to destroy them.
What is a typical day for you?
I rise early in the morning by 5 a.m. I go to the Ravi river to paint. Then it is breakfast, a bit of TV, supervision of Cucoís Cafť. Again, between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m., I paint. I am an early sleeper.
The German Foreign Minister was here at Cucoís, so were The British Defence secretary, and Mr. Jinnahís daughter and grandson. Pakistan World Bank country Director John Walls has bought a 3.5 marlas [80 square yards] house next to mine in the old city of Lahore. Hashwani [ owner of a Pearl Continental Hotels in Pakistan] bought a building in the courtyard where my house is. I have resigned from the National College of Arts.
Would you like to say a few words on the state of Art education and painting in Pakistan?
The two institutions of art - Punjab University & National College of Arts are deteriorating. And the state of affairs today? It is pathetic. I think we need experienced teachers to look after and provide written guidelines for the institutions. Is this what we call our Asia Ė Mohenjo Daro, a 5000 years old civilization? Who is going to paint our people? How are we going to build our culture?
The West has painted its lands and its people. They have their Louvres and Museums of Art. Who will paint our people? Nobody. Because our teachers and administrators know nothing and are concerned only about their seats and jobs. I am very disturbed by all this. So thatís why I put in an early retirement at NCA. Whatís going on? What is happening is simply copying things from America. The Board of Governors does not know a bit of what is happening in these institutions. Nobody paints workingmen and women in the countryside.
One notices that in some of your paintings, there is always a mirror in which either your face or the subject is reflected in the paintings.
Yes that is correct, but it has been done without planning or pre-meditation. I donít know why I do this, canít understand it.
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