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KARACHI: The painter and art professor, Salima Hashmi, said that the separation of East Pakistan in 1971 shattered the art movement in the country.

Responding to a question during her discussion along with journalist and the Chief Executive Officer of the Dawn Media Group Hameed Haroon on topic of ‘75 years of Pakistani Art’ during the 2nd Bank Alfalah ‘Nigaah Art Award 2023’ here at Mohatta Palace Museum the other night, Professor Hashmi said people like Mohammad Kibria - the Asian modern & contemporary painter from East Pakistan (Now Bangladesh) - had a very strong influence on people like Zahoor ul Akhlaq – one of Pakistan’s pioneering artists.

“Zahoor told me that his art work was influenced by Kibria,” she said adding the other artists of that time went to London to study and Kibria, himself, went to Japan.

Shahab Zuberi Group COO at Aaj TV/ Business Recorder also graced the event with his presence, and conferred award upon one of the winners.

Salima went on to say that when Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was overthrown, the martial law snatched the freedom of expression and also affected the art community. Some male artists went into the calligraphy fashion, while women did not.

She said some women artists got together and signed the ‘Women Artist Manifesto of Pakistan’, a secrete document in which they decided that their work would be about what is going on in the country; how the women’s life, particularly, was being targeted by the policies of General Zia-ul-Haq. “He did not have smart bureaucrats to advise him about how to camouflage things to serve his interests.”

She said after the creation of Pakistan, the work that we call ‘Pakistani Art’ mirrors the life that we knew and lived. She said 1947 was not like dropping of one curtain, and lifting of another. “There were millions of people on the move – leaving and coming. It was a time of a terrible trauma for millions of people and, it continued for a while. So in that time, was any art possible?”

“I asked my father (the legendry poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz) that so much happened in 1947 and you wrote only one poem ‘Subh-e-Azaadi’ about such a traumatic event? He responded: ‘we could not cope’; yes, people could not cope we would hardly be making art.

But, look at the work of Chughtai at that time. Can you imagine that he was living in the city of Lahore? You don’t get a hint of it in the work that he did during that time. This tells us something about the ability of certain artists to live in their cocoon, and work looking at their own, Salima said.

However, Haroon said, generally Abdur Rahman Chughtai was well known at the time of partition. He had exhibitions in Delhi, Hyderabad, Lahore and Bhopal, but there were other artists who were silent at that time. Faizi Lahami from Karachi does not have any work pertaining to early 1947. Allah Bakhsh does have a painting of 1949.

Salima said as Pakistan came into being, most of the young artists thought, we should come up with a new art and literature. For a new country it’s going to be new art. Dying for the new art, and modernism, they were thumping the coffee house tables in Lahore.

While comparing the Pre-1947 Karachi and Lahore, she said Lahore was a lively centre of culture, art, music and literature. A number of artists moved somewhere else after the partition and left space for the modernists to come.

While, Karachi was a small sleepy but very interesting place at that time, there was not any art movement here. Some of the images that we have in Sindh show the province had a very rich culture but did not inspire the urban culture. Later on, artists both men and women emerged; art and cultural institutions were established in the city.

When Haroon asked Salima that why have we cut out Amrita Sher-Gil of her territory, and she committed suicide in 1942, or 43, and Pakistani collectors sold her paintings.

On this, Salima clarified that she did not commit suicide. She advised the audience to read out her autobiography.

She said Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, our Prime Minister, had the feeling for the arts. He gave chance to the young Sadequain, a legendary Pakistani artist of his time to work, travel and explore his potential.

His career as politician and PM is very short lived. That period was taken over with the military dictator who was helped by smart bureaucrats, who knew about making dictator acceptable; it’s good that we cultivate his image as the patron of the arts. Therefore, artists were given awards, held international exhibition abroad.

Earlier, Tauqeer Muhajir, Editor and Publisher Nigaah Magazine, and host of the function in his welcome address said, the event has been presented by the Arif Habib Group while Business Recorder/Aaj News are the media partners.

He said there has been a big gap between the first and second awards. This is the most difficult event organized under the Nigaah umbrella. When the last event was held, economic conditions were much better and different.

While we confront the economic situation which has also impacted the art business, there are also many positives that had happened between the first and second mega awards, he said. Some of performing artist and painters has done extremely well on the global stage. Arooj Aftab became the first Pakistani musician to get a Granny.

Economic meltdown might also be a good idea for Pakistan investment houses to develop a framework to launch a couple of art funds; I feel this will help artist and the art community to develop art markets in Pakistan. I am an eternal optimist that is why we keep doing this and I belief things will change sooner than later, he said.

The event featured a couple of music and traditional dance performances.

The event had an art auction, and all the proceeds of action will go the student scholarships

Awards were conferred upon the winning artists on various categories including Photography. Khatati/ Calligraphy, Curat-orial Work, Art Critic, Emerging Artist Female, Emerging Artist male, Lifetime Achievement Awards, Painting contemporary, Painting Miniature, Painting Landscape, Painting-Still Life, Painting figurative/ portrait, Drawing, 3D/Sculptural Work, Print Marking, etc.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

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