Pakistan’s art heritage is rich
with culture, historical events
and it’s story. It’s narrative is
ever-evolving and it’s patrons
are some of the most
renowned master artists in the
history of South Asian art.
Although Pakistan was founded in 1947, the seeds of the idea of an independent state were planted in 711 CE when Muhammad Bin Qasim, an Arab conquerer, conquered Sindh, one of the five provinces which make up Pakistan today. Gradually Muslim rulers officially became part of the political scene in India with different dynasties ruling the Sub-continent from 11th century CE onwards to the Mughals. (1526- 1857) The Mughals arrived in India from the steppes of Central Asia and introduced Turco Persian traditions and a way of life that synthesized with the indigenous and helped to establish the roots of the culture we know today. They were great patrons of art and architecture and have left behind a rich legacy in fashion, cuisine, architecture, and painting which still inspire the creative imagination. The Taj Mahal is but one example of their legacy. The 18th century saw the influence of British rule in India. The British established art schools in large cities like Bombay, Calcutta, Madras, and Lahore This provoked a big change in the art and culture of the Subcontinent which is evident in all aspects of life including the visual arts Art has played a huge role in promoting Pakistan as an independent country, establishing its roots as a separate state from India after the partition of the Subcontinent.
Amidst the initial political tensions, Pakistani art has spread the notions of nationality and patriotism through paintings, sculptures, poems, writing, and storytelling. Pakistani artists have presented themselves as modern artists and have gained significant recognition of their role in forming the nation’s identity
The region which is now called Pakistan has been a crucible of various influences which are evident in the contemporary art and culture of this land. The Indus Valley was home to a highly developed civilization that existed in Northwest India (now Pakistan) and was one of the earliest civilizations of the world (2500-1700 BCE). Different art forms began to take shape amongst the artisans of the Indus Valley including sculptures, seals, pottery, gold ornaments, and Terracotta figures. By 1500 BC, the Aryan civilization migrated to the Indian Subcontinent as well, giving rise to the Indo-Aryan culture. The advent of the Greeks ( 2nd century BC) led to the development of the Gandhara art which was an amalgamation of Buddhist and Greek influences
From calligraphy to vast landscapes, abstract to art of historic times, Pakistan’s art is filled with beauty in paint and form. Let’s take a colorful trip down the years.
Abdur Rahman Chughtai (1897-1975)
Born in 1884, A.R Chughtai was influenced by the Bengal school of painting. He was inspired by the Mughal and Persian style of painting and evolved what would later be known as “Chughtai art”. His style was strongly influenced by Islamic art traditions fused with a feel of Art Nouveau. His masterworks are the Amal e Chughtai and Muraqqae Chughtai which illustrate the verses of Iqbal and Ghalib. He created the first logo for the Pakistan Television Corporation and designed a set of stamps known as “Chughtai Art Set” in 1951. His contribution in defining the visual aesthetic of a country establishing its identity was paramount.
Ustad Allah Bux (1895-1978)
Born in 1895, Ustad Allah Bux is considered as one of the pioneer painters of Pakistan. He developed his passion for art at an early age. He is known for his magnificent art depictions of the rural life of Pakistan, more specifically, in Punjab, where he was born. His paintings generally are large-sized and romantic
Anna Molka Ahmad (1917-1994)
Anna Molka Ahmad, a prolific painter/sculptor, worked hard as Head of the Fine Arts Department, in developing educational resources for art, in one of the higher education institutions of Pakistan, the University of the Punjab, Lahore. Having worked tirelessly towards holding annual art exhibitions in the University Hall and to navigate censorship and art curriculums for art degrees, Anna spent decades mentoring students and encouraging them to develop their own unique styles of painting and expression through creative mediums. After her retirement in 1979, Anna worked on an array of vibrant work which she exhibited in her first solo display at Lahore Museum in 1983.
(Artwork shown by Anna Molka Ahmad)
Shakir Ali (1916-1975)
Shakir Ali had an encounter with modern art in Paris and later in Prague where he also studied textiles. He returned to Pakistan 1954 and in 1962 became the first Principal of National College of Art, Lahore ( formerly the Mayo School of Art ). As Principal he was able to inspire a whole generation of painters, namely, Zahoor ul Ikhlaq, Ahmad Parvez, Jamil Naqsh, Saeed Akhtar, and many others. He adopted a cubist style of painting. His paintings mainly featured mythical subjects and birds which he viewed as a symbol of freedom.
(Artwork shown by Shakir Ali)
Anwar Jalal Shemza (1928-1985)
Anwar Shemza was inspired by Modernism at the beginning of his career. Later on, he began to incorporate traditional Islamic influence into his art as well. In addition to being a painter, he was an accomplished writer and printmaker.
(Artwork shown by Anwar Jalal Shemza)
Moyenne Najmi taught art at the Aitchison College, Lahore, and inspired many of his young students through his teaching. Art was meant to express the values of Muslim art and culture of Pakistan. His paintings featured rural scenes of Punjab but he focussed specifically on Lahore. He captured the city’s architecture and monuments while depicting nature as well.
(Artwork shown on right by Moyenne Najmi)
Zubeida Agha (1922-1997)
Zubeida Agha, the first artist to hold an exhibition of her paintings in Pakistan, was also among the first modern artists of Pakistan. Her determination to launch the “Colorism” style of the painting showed her commitment to her craft. Her use of color lent to the meaning of the visuals she was painting. She is often called as the torch-bearer of modern art in Pakistan.
(Artwork shown on left by Zubeida Agha)
Naseem Hafiz Qazi (1928-1994)
Naseem Qazi’s paintings told stories about those affected by social inequalities. She depicted the struggles ordinary workers faced in their lives. Her art was dominated by the faces of men, women, and children, showing the crises in life that they faced.
(Artwork shown on right by Naseem Hafiz Qazi)
Ahmed Parvez (1926-1979)
Ahmed Parvez was born in 1926 in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. He lived and worked in the UK from 1955 to 1964. Before returning to Pakistan, he lived in the United States for two years, where he exhibited his work in New York City. He held over 30 exhibitions in the U.S, UK, Europe, and Pakistan. He is one of the most exhibited Pakistani artists. Ahmed Parvez’s work integrates modernism into Pakistani art beautifully.
Khalid Iqbal (1929-2014)
Khalid Iqbal was a master of modern realism in landscape painting. He had a tremendous impact on his students and the art community both as a teacher and an artist. His technique of capturing light and atmosphere by applying thin layers of paint on boards, his preferred surface in lieu of canvas, was his signature style. He is considered to be one of the leading landscape painters of the Subcontinent.
Gulgee, a completely self-taught painter began exploring portraiture while studying engineering at Columbia and Harvard universities in the United States. He became well-known for his portraits and was commissioned to paint those of Prince Karim Aga Khan (1961), President Ayub Khan (1968), Queen Farah Diba of Iran (1965), and many more people in powerful positions. He made those portraits in the blue lapis lazuli stone which were highly prized. But he is mainly known for his bold execution of calligraphy. He is also known as an action painter of Pakistan as he would load his brush with paint and in one stroke render his calligraphy pieces.
The decade in which art broke barriers of class (the 1960s-1970s), Sadequain was working as one of the most prolific contemporary artists in South Asia. His work in calligraphy was a distinguished contribution to cubism and he accomplished a lot in a short period of time, bringing art to the underprivileged in cities for the first time. His exhibitions were seen by the masses and overnight art broke the barrier of class in a society that had strong roots in class divisions. His paintings were thought-provoking and forward-looking to the future while social commentary was central to his art.
Colin David (1937-2008)
Colin David was born in 1937 in Karachi but lived most of his life in Lahore. When the Fine Art Department opened for young men at Punjab University in 1955, he immediately took admission. In 1960, he was appointed as a lecturer in the Fine Arts Department of Punjab University. The following year, he was awarded a scholarship to study at the Slade School of Art in London. It was here where he had the opportunity to draw the nude. The positioning of objects in space became a significant element of his overall compositions. He is known for his exceptional draughtsmanship and modernistic approach in the layout and design of his compositions.
Ali Imam (1924-2002)
Ali Imam was born in 1924 and in the early ’40s, he went to the Nagpur School of Art for education in arts. After partition, Ali and some of his family moved to Pakistan. In the new country, his socialist beliefs were looked down upon, and he was constantly surveilled due to his political beliefs. Due to this, he moved to London and lived there for about eleven years. Upon his return, he founded the Indus Gallery in Karachi in 1971. The name “Indus Gallery” came from the Indus River, which was extremely important to the early civilizations such as Mohenjo-Daro.
Ghulam Rasul (1923-2001)
Ghulam Rasul graduated from the University of the Punjab and later did another Master degree from Illinois,USA in printmaking. Most of his paintings feature the rural landscape of Punjab. His style was naturalistic at first, but then became more simplified and abstract.
Zubeda Javed (1937-2015)
Zubeda Javed is known for her strong compositions and subtle blending of color tones in her paintings. An intuitive artist she was able to blend her brush strokes with the palette knife with great effusiveness, thereby creating a marvelous texture on her canvas. Her subject matter deals with everyday scenes that carry a timeless quality.
Zahoor Ul Akhlaq (1941-1999)
Zahoor Akhlaq was influenced by many art forms, such as painting, literature, philosophy, Sufism, dance, and music. His art invoked a dialogue about modernist abstraction intertwined with the many traditional forms and practices found within South Asian art.
Zulqurnain Haider (1939- present)
Zulqurnain Haider studied under Khalid Iqbal at the University of Punjab, he therefore has strong affiliations with the latter’s painting philosophy. He has painted mostly the environs of the city of Lahore. His landscape paintings are displayed all around the world in countries such as Paris, the United States, and major cities of Pakistan. His landscape paintings hang in the President’s house, the Prime minister’s house, the Pakistan secretariat, the National Assembly, the Lahore Museum and the Pakistan foreign office in Islamabad.
Jamil Naqsh (1939-2019)
A prolific painter, Jamil Naqsh has left behind a rich legacy of paintings and drawings which are housed in prestigious galleries all around the globe. His subject for a long time remained the study of fluttering pigeons and the female form. He also painted women and horses. He has to his credit amazing pieces of calligraphy drawings. Naqsh was influenced by the works of Indian, Pakistani and European masters, including Pablo Picasso.
Saeed Akhtar (1938-present)
Known as a portrait painter, Saeed Akhtar has painted some remarkable paintings of political figures, poets, begums and is known as the painter of the Quaid. He was commissioned to design Pakistan’s largest stamp issue consisting of 27 postage stamps on pioneers of freedom. Painting with unrestrained color palettes and depicting the human figure in a freely imaginative way with movement, Saeed captures a range of emotions in his work. He received the Pride of Performance award in 1993 and his work continues to be an inspiration for the art community as well as artists in the making.
Ijaz ul Hassan (1938-present)
Mentored by Moyenne Najmi and Khalid Iqbal, Ijaz ul Hassan received the award for “best artist” three years in a row at Aitchison College. In 1958, Ijaz became a student of the Fine Arts Department at the University of Punjab. Maintaining close ties with those at Punjab University, he completed his MA in English from the Government College. He formed a group that included Colin David, Khalid Mahmud, Nighat Idrees, and Musarrat Hasan. They called themselves the “Palette Group”
Through his art, Ijaz documents the world around him and expresses his feelings concerning social and political issues. For him, Nature serves as a symbol for commentary on the political realities of his land.