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Watch thy neighbour's art

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REALITY-SPEAK One of Zeeshan's works .
REALITY-SPEAK One of Zeeshan's works .

Some time ago, we saw the works of some senior artists from Pakistan Ghulam Rasul, Gulrez, Iqbal Hasan, Iqbal Mehendi and Naheed Raza among others. It gave us more than a peep into what the first and second generation artists are painting in that country. If Hasan painted the traditional life of Pakistan, Mehendi portrayed the darker side, life in brothels and so on. Raza, 45, sparked the revolution by painting nudes, caring little for mass acceptability, while Rasul has always been a lovable artist for bringing alive scenic beauty on his canvases.Then we had some young artists likeImran and Wasim from across the border whose works spoke more about billboards, the metropolitan culture and other such subjects in mixed media. Now there is one more from this young brigade, Muhammad Zeeshan, who recently mounted his creations under the title Sublime Maladies, at New Delhi's Anant Art Gallery, now located at F - 213 - B Lado Sarai. Zeeshan, like his peers in the art fraternity, is also painting themes that are more contemporary than traditional, but the style is conventional, i.e., miniature. For instance, one of his creations on wasli and gouache blends images of the Great American Centre and 101 vultures. Vultures, now a recurring image Zeeshan's works, are symbolic of political, social, religious pressures. The number 101 is symbolic of `shagun'. His other images also have recurring animal and bird imagery. Earlier, toy guns and bananas played a significant role. For instance, one of his works portrays an infant being fed a banana as his first food but the banana pulp is replaced by a gun. "This image is a reflection of my country's social and political scenario. The infant is being fed with a feeling of taking up guns from the very beginning due to political and religious pressures," he explains.Such images, though, didn't find many takers in his native land initially. "I was criticised for adulterating the true miniature style which were associated with exquisite Persian carpets, Moghul legacy and scenic beauty. They said I was leading to the slow death of this artistic legacy. But I held on to the idea that my technique is traditional but the theme is contemporary. Every artist paints his times, so do I. It will be an injustice to my own artistic language," says the artist who has specialised in miniature technique from the College of Art, Lahore.

Lack of history

Zeeshan is also a witness to the fast changing art scene in Pakistan. If he realises that his generation is reaping the fruits of seeds sown by stalwarts in Pakistan like Quddus Mirza, Ghulam Rasul, Gulrez and Iqbal, he equally feels lost for the "lack of history in art" in the country. "Unlike us, India's young artists have a long history of art to fall back on. Though because of much depending on the past, images have been oft repeated in India, but the fact remains that this has instilled in them a great confidence. I find them very focussed just like those who obtain an engineering or medical degree with a career objective in mind. With us, everything is in a developing stage. So, there is a curiosity and a wait-and-watch approach among artists." But, the art scene is fast changing , thanks to the likes of curator Saleema Hashmi, Mirza and others. For the first time, in February, Pakistan will see 14 art shows under one roof in the to-be-launched National Art Gallery in Karachi. Everything from miniatures, installations, sculptures to video art would be a part of this inaugural show, he says. The just-concluded show also featured Sites of Engagement, a group exhibition by the young Kruti Thaker, Sonatina Mendes, Prantik Chattopadhyay and Malavika Gorur Rajnarayan. RANA SIDDIQUI


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