Thursday, August 29, 2013

Bloomberg article on Pakistan art - stereotyped, shallow but ......

The problem with a weak brand, at every level - be it personal, corporate, social, country, region, religion - is that it yearns to get the limelight of stronger brands in the space (to make its brand stronger) but is often fearful and unsure of what the result would be. Most often than not, the weaker brand is disappointed with the result of the brand enhancement exercise as the coverage of a weak bran is normally stereotyped in the same niche in which it exists. How to get out of that vicious cycle is the inherent dilemma of weak brands. Simply put, brand repositioning (on the way up!) is extremely tough.

Just to elaborate the point, let's look at a few examples; Misbah vs Afridi in cricket (Misbah is one of the most consistent performers and successful captains in the game today but never gets a decent hearing from the media as opposed to the highly volatile - to put it mildly - Afridi who dominates the local media). The same goes for the branding biases of  Pakistan vs India, Samsung vs Apple, non-whites vs whites, McDonald vs Burger King, Sadequain vs MF Hussain, 'Urdu-medium' vs 'English medium', CBM vs IBA, etc, etc ..... I think you get the point.

In this backdrop, whenever Pakistan's name is mentioned at the international level on the 'softer image' side (what ever this term means!), Pakistanis get excited, they read the story and then often get disappointed. Even these stories normally don't reflect the reality on the ground and somehow connect them to the post 9/11 stereotyped image of the country (I don't need to elaborate what that image is ...... all of us have had an overdose of that).

The whole point of this preamble was to put a disclaimer before posting this article. I think the article is shallow on so many different levels - be it stereotyping it with terrorism (how many of you have seen a serious OBL art work?), not mentioning that artists in every part of the world in every era are influenced by things around them, art in meant to be political, there are so many other topics being addressed/covered too, art has not received international attention due to 9/11 but rather that there has been a resurgence in arts in the past decade across all emerging markets as their economies and societies have developed, that Pakistan creative centres gained momentum in the past 15 years after the dark ages of Zia, etc etc (see bottom part of A Proud Milestone for Pakistan & Asian Art . But then we are used to CNNs/Bloombergs of this world doing superficial reporting in the spirit of 'who cares about the details'.

I am still sharing this article in the spirit of "badnaam agar hoNge to kya naam na hoga" (Shefta).

Enjoy (or not) !


Bin Laden’s Parrots Blood Fuel Boom in Pakistan Artists
By Faseeh Mangi - Aug 26, 2013
Source Bloomberg

Osama bin Laden stares out at an army of shadowy figures. Each carries a machine gun and has the head of a parrot.

The roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in New York is covered with what looks like dried blood. Close up, the work shows shrubbery and bird feathers.    A patriotic picture of the U.S. flag isn’t all it seems. Each of the stars and stripes is made up of tiny Urdu verses asking for forgiveness and mercy from God.
Pakistan Art                      
"Shabash" By Amir Raza. "Shabash," meaning "Good Job" in English, shows Bin Laden commanding a group of armed people that have the heads of parrots. Recent graduate in fine arts Amir Raza picks the topic of terrorism for his first exhibition. Source: Full Circle Art Gallery via Bloomberg

These are all works by Pakistanis -- Amir Raza, Imran Qureshi and Muhammad Zeeshan, respectively. Pakistan’s most violent decade in history has come as a boon to the nation’s artists, with prices of paintings, number of art galleries in major cities and frequency of exhibitions all multiplying. “I don’t think terrorism is the sole factor,” says Shakira Masood, curator at Art Chowk in Karachi, who has been asked to hold exhibitions in Hong Kong and Istanbul. “Artists may have gotten into the limelight from that, but they are very talented.”

The new generation of contemporary artists -- which also includes Rashid Rana and Shazia Sikander -- has started to sell more in international auction houses and seen greater interest from collectors and investors in Pakistan, the world’s sixth most populous nation. Qureshi is Deutsche Bank’s Artist of the Year for 2013.                

Imran Qureshi

Imran Qureshi Pakistani artist Imran Qureshi poses on his creation, painted on the rooftop of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The work looks like dry blood from far but a closer look shows leafy shrubbery and bird feathers. Photography: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

Art Investment

“If you invest in a top artist painting, you will get a higher return” than many other investment avenues, says Tauqeer Muhajir, publisher and editor of art magazine Nigaah. Demand for Pakistani paintings is rising because they are relatively cheap and high in quality, he says.

Zeeshan grew up in the small town of Mirpurkhas. He used to be a poster painter for the local film industry that on rare occasion still resorts to painting two-story-high billboards instead of printing. Never did he imagine his work would be bought by London’s British Museum and New York’s Met museum.

He had a change of fortune after joining the National College of Arts in Lahore. After specializing in miniatures, Zeeshan started to sell works -- for less than $100 in 2003 and as much as $20,000 now. He brushes paintings on wasli paper and has even used Pepsi and Coca-Cola cans in his works.
“Pakistan artists caught the eye of international galleries and curators after the 9/11 twin tower attack,” Zeeshan says. “Terrorism, Taliban and Bin Laden are the biggest subjects of the century.”

Muhammad Zeeshan

Muhammad Zeeshan Pakistani artist Muhammad Zeeshan. He started painting posters for cinemas and has now had his work acquired by the British Museum and Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Photography: Anindito Mukherjee/The India Today Group/Getty Images        

Taliban Attack

Nationwide attacks by Taliban insurgents have killed 40,000 people since Pakistan decided to support the U.S. war in Afghanistan following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. Al-Qaeda founder Bin Laden was killed in May 2011 during a raid by U.S. special operations forces on his compound in Abbottabad, a garrison town about 50 kilometers (30 miles) north of the capital, Islamabad.

“Great works are being produced by the artists from the region,” says Deepanjana Klein, a specialist in South Asian modern and contemporary art at Christie’s International Plc that claims to be the first international auction house to include Pakistani art at auction in 2006.
Karachi-based art gallery Eye for Art holds three international exhibitions including two in the U.S. every year. Another gallery, Art Chowk, sells half its collection to buyers from the U.S. to China and Switzerland via its website.

“Pakistani art prices have now recovered to levels before the global financial crisis in 2008, when they peaked and were a better investment than real estate,” says Ali Haider, Eye For Art gallery director in Karachi.

Rashid Rana

Rashid Rana Pakistani artist Rashid Rana poses with his artwork on display at the Saatchi Gallery in London. The artist's works have started to sell at international auctions. Photography: Stuart Wilson/Getty Images           

‘Good Job’

Raza, a recent graduate in fine arts, used the subject of terrorism in his first exhibition. His work featuring Bin Laden and the parrots is called “Shabash,” meaning “Good Job.” In another, a woman in a veil is depicted reading from a book with guns displayed in the background. Raza’s paintings start from 18,000 rupees ($175) and go up to 38,000 rupees.

“Prices of students’ work had to be controlled after complaints from buyers and galleries,” says Adeela Suleman, head of fine arts at the Karachi-based Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture. “Prices of portfolio work starts from 1,500 rupees and goes up to 50,000 rupees.” 

Nazar Haidri held his first exhibition this summer, 50 years after being an art student and says it’s still tough making a living in Pakistan through art. Pakistanis prefer investing in real estate to art, says the 70-year-old Haidri. He was part of the first batch that studied art from regional masters including Pakistan’s Sadequain and Bangladesh’s Zainul Abedin in the 60s at Pakistan Arts Council in Karachi and switched to a career in marketing after failing to make a living as an artist.

Imran Qureshi’s Roof Garden Commission continues until Nov. 3 at the New York Metropolitan Museum, 1000 Fifth Avenue, 10028-0198. Information: +1-212-535-7710 or

Pakistan Art

Pakistan Art                       "Dry Leaf" by Amir Raza. "Dry Leaf" depicts a woman in traditional dress with the head of a parrot reading a book with guns in the background. Recent graduate in fine arts Amir Raza picked the subject of terrorism for his first exhibition. Source: Full Circle Art Gallery via Bloomberg





Sunday, August 25, 2013

The best global art exhibtions of 2013 (So far)

The Best Art Exhibitions of 2013 (So Far)
David Bowie @ V&A (Source: Complex Art+Design)
The following are the best global exhibitions adjudged by the Complex Art+Design. (Source: Complex Art+Design)
  1. Jean-Michel Basquiat, Gagosian Gallery, New York
  2. James Turrell, Guggenheim
  3. WS: Paul McCarthy, Park Avenue Armory
  4. Jeff Koons, Gagosian Gallery, New York 
  5. Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui, Brooklyn Museum
  6. NYC 1993: Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star, New Museum
  7. David Bowie, Victoria and Albert Museum, Lndon
  8. LaToya Ruby Frazier: A Haunted Capital, Brooklyn Museum
  9. Takashi Murakami: Arhat, Blum & Poe
  10. Tracey Emin: I Followed You To The Sun, Lehmann Maupin
  11. Yoshitomo Nara, Pace Gallery
  12. Venice Biennale,  La Biennale di Venezia
  13. Le Corbusier: An Atlas of Modern Landscapes, MoMA
  14. Kenny Scharf: Kolors, Paul Kasmin Gallery
  15. Subliming Vessel: The Drawings of Matthew Barney, The Morgan Library and Museum
  16. Gary Baseman: The Door Is Always Open, Skirball
 The Best Art Exhibitions of 2013 (So Far)
  Venice Biennale (Source: Complex Art+Design)
The above list is quite US centric and hence Artwallaa has used discretion here to add a few more favourites from around the world. (Feedback welcomed, if you think we need to take notice of some really good exhibition):
  1. The Roof Garden Commission: Imran Qureshi, The Met, New York
  2. Club to Catwalk: London Fashion in the 1980s at the V&A, London
  3. Roy Lichtenstein, 'Une rétrospective', The Centre Pompidou, Paris
  4. Frida Kahlo / Diego Rivera : L'Art en fusion, Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris
  5. The Roof Garden Commission: Imran Qureshi's Miniature Paintings, (July 29, 2013–February 2, 2014), Gallery 916, The Met, NY)
 Photo: In honour of Pakistan Independence Day
All Eyes Skywards, During the Annual Parade: is an observable shift from Rashid Rana’s two dimensional renderings to a more three dimensional manipulation of image and space in All Eyes Skyward. Small images of still from modern Indian cinema make up a crowd riveted by a Pakistan National Day parade.
Rashid Rana's Labyrinth of Reflections is by far the best ever contemporary art exhibition put up in Pakistan; in Artwallaa's view. (Photo Source: Mohatta Palace website)


The ‘swinging seventies’ in Pakistan: An urban history

Another very insightful article by NFP - Nadeem F. Paracha on Pakistan's political, social and cultural history (without colouring it with any political/religious ideology); specially a good synopsis of the Performing Arts scene the seventies.

While nostalgic and at the same time sad for Pakistanis to see how the country has developed in the past four decades, Artwalla continues to believe that the dark ages of Pakistan cultural development and activities are behind us ...... A Proud Milestone for Pakistan & Asian Art

The article is too long to put here so  ..... click here to read the article

Source: Dawn

Hippie tourists enjoying themselves at a hut at one of Karachi’s many beaches in 1973. –Photo courtesy: Pakistan Herald.

Tracking Amrita Shergil's house in Lahore

An interesting article on tracking down residences of pre-partition artists from Lahore. Good effort even though the writer good 'distracted' a little too much into baking ! 
From Amrita Shergil to Lady Harrison: A journey through history

By Ali Zaef (Source: Dawn)

Earlier this year, I set out in search of some old houses in Lahore city, where the legends of arts had once lived, I came across the house of Amrita Shergil, a true Punjabi artist, who breathed her last in this city. She resided in an apartment at 23 - Ganga Ram Mansion (once called the Exchange Mansion), where presently a family of an auto mechanic is living.
 Amrita Shergil's house. -Photo by Ali Zaef

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Everything is Illuminated - An Interview with Shahzia Sikander

Source: Art Mag

Shahzia Sikander, like Deutsche Bank’s “Artist of the Year” 2013, Imran Qureshi, belongs to a generation of Pakistani artists who have radically renewed centuries-old miniature painting. Sikander, who is represented in the Deutsche Bank Collection, mixes traditional motifs with various cultural references and transfers her collages to different media, from wall painting to animation video. Cheryl Kaplan met with the artist, who recently received the „U.S. Department of State - Medal of Arts“ from Hillary Clinton, in New York for an exclusive interview.

In Shahzia Sikander’s Big Dog Series, headless robotic dogs, fashioned after U.S. military drones in Afghanistan, chase wildly through the legs of a Sumo wrestler. Lifting a cow with his bare hands, the wrestler looks back at a plump goddess wielding a megaphone. This trumped up version of a classic hunt or battle scene, so familiar to us from paintings by Rubens and Delacroix or Persian miniature painting, is just one example of how Sikander conjoins the often separate worlds of East and West.

Her exquisitely rendered gouache drawings, paintings, animated films and projections are built in rich, luminous layers, a technique she first learned from miniature painting which she mastered at the National College of Art in Lahore, Pakistan. Also Imran Qureshi, Deutsche Bank’s “Artist of the Year” 2013, studied at the NCA. Sikander grew up during the oppressive military regime of Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq in the 1970s and 1980s and speaks several languages, including Urdu, English, Punjabi and Arabic.

Cataclysmic events are the lifeblood of Sikander’s visual language, and yet, there is great humor in her work. At times, her odd-ball use of allegory and vaudevillian drama turn history into a quixotic narrative. But narrative is not her stopping point. As I learned from the artist in her Midtown New York studio, what she’s most “interested in is how flux can open the dialogue between cultural and political boundaries.”

Sikander’s paintings and animated films have been exhibited internationally at the Venice Biennale; Museum of Modern Art, NY and the Whitney Biennial. Against the far window in her studio, a small leather box is stacked on top of books. Inside is the „U.S. Department of State - Medal of Arts“, recently presented to Shahzia Sikander by Hillary Clinton.
Cheryl Kaplan: When did you make your first miniature paintings?

Shahzia Sikander: In 1988, I majored in miniature painting at the National College of Art in Pakistan. I was the only person in the department and studied with Bashir Ahmed. I was also interested in the conceptual miniature painter Zahoor ul Akhlaq. [Akhlaq, a Civil Rights activist and his daughter, a well-known classical dancer, were murdered in 1999.] I was curious about what miniature painting represented as a complicated craft-based residue of the English Colonial period of the school and region and its relation to tourism as well as its lack of a continuous critical history.

Why doesn’t the term miniature painting explain your practice?

My desire was to analyze miniature painting critically and not just make miniature paintings. I don’t know why I’ve been defined by the context of miniature painting. Maybe it’s an identity-based premise and categorization. I see it as two distinct stages. Starting in the mid-80s, I had a decade engagement with miniature painting, looking at ways to open up its discussion, not just in terms of a painterly approach, but through its scholarship.

And your second decade?

It’s the outcome of [my] progression as an artist that involved a distancing from miniature painting that was a natural outcome of my progression and growth as an artist.
Miniature painting has become part of your “hand” or language as a painter, but you’ve also transformed into a system of thinking.  

My work is really about painting and thinking simultaneously and less about making works related to a genre.  I’m interested in that distance between a point of origin and one’s current relationship to it; it fascinates me. Is it important to define what you’re looking at or doing with what you reference? There’s a whole myth around tradition, but how do you define tradition? Who makes tradition come into being only at a certain point in history? When you study how miniature painting has been understood and written about in art history, those definitions can be quite stale.

Your work is incredibly lively, playful and luminous. I’m reminded of the diffuse paintings of Blake or Turner or Tiepolo where the viewer’s focus is constantly being moved about the canvas through interplays of light and composition. Your work contains a similar meandering and turbulence with shifting levels of luminosity. Your characters rarely stay put as they switch into their next role or iteration. In the animated projection "Nemesis" (2002) a strange creature starts out as a composite of many animals: a tiger, deer and bull and then suddenly a human figure appears in the mix only to encounter three winged devils. These creatures try to co-exist, but can’t.

That’s a good way to understand the work. Regarding luminosity, early on I was looking at Bonnard and Vuillard. While I learned about color and light through miniature painting it was less about iconography and narrative and more about using materials to create space and dimension through light. From the beginning I was attracted to the abstract aspects of miniatures.

A common assumption is that you work from Hindu mythology, Persian tales, and personal experience. Is this true?

No. I haven’t worked with Persian tales or Hindu mythology, that’s a myth. I’m not interested in narrative based content that accompanies a lot of miniature painting. I was interested in the miniature image for its formal structure. It’s an incredible puzzle. I want to analyze it, to look at how color and line function.

Today there are many younger artists in Pakistan who work with miniature painting, for example Imran Qureshi, Deutsche Bank’s "Artist of the Year" 2013.

I influenced a lot of Pakistani artists and witnessed this explosion after me in miniature painting. I had a following of students. Miniature painters are now successful in biennials everywhere. Imran also worked with Bashir. When I left, Imran started teaching. In the last decade, artists who did miniature painting got support locally. Now there are powerful collectors investing in art in South Asia, India and Pakistan. This is generating a new structure and culture that’s the best thing that’s happened in terms of news about Pakistan.

In what way does being a Muslim woman in the USA from Pakistan describe you or not?

If you asked that question in early 2000, I was passionate about the frustrations. There was a time when I was deeply upset about having my work understood in that context and then I stopped being upset. Maybe I have more distance now, but I could care less about what it is to be a Muslim woman in the USA. Ten years ago, I had a closer relationship to my own history. It’s a complex topic in terms of contemporary work coming out of South Asia, the Mid-East, Latin countries, Europe and North America. I’m just back from a meeting in Switzerland where I’m part of the Master Jury for the Aga Khan Award for Architecture 2013 that represents a diverse Muslim community. I grew up Muslim, going to a Catholic school in Pakistan. But, this has nothing to do with my work. My work doesn’t deal with religion. The diversity and histories of the Muslim experience is so much about its plurality. This has always been ignored.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Mob vandalises Pakistan-India art exhibition in Ahmedabad, India

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Art+Auction's : 50 Under 50: The Next Most Collectible Artists - Imran Qureshi

Imran Qureshi makes it into the Art+Auction's prestigious 50 Under 50: The Next Most Collectible Artists list for 2013. The magazine publishes its widely followed list in the middle of the year and this is the first time that a Pakistani artist has made it to the list. Qureshi is also the only locally based artist from the sub-continent to make it to the list. Other artists with subcontinent connections are the London based Idris Khan and Raqib Shaw.

50 Under 50, Part 2

Art+Auction June 2013
Art+Auction June 2013
"Last year we set out on what some might call a fool’s errand by selecting the 50 most collectible living artists. Hoping to elevate this sort of list-making beyond a parlor game, we defined the parameters and embarked on research to find those artists who have a proven record in the market and also show promise of the continuing innovation and devotion to craft that will warrant attention for decades to come. The result was a list that peered beyond the headlines. A year is no time at all in the long game that is serious collecting. For this second outing we decided to add to the challenge by focusing on artists under the age of 50. For such a group, auction stats can be erratic, and artists may just be adding a major museum solo to their exhibition history.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Paradoxical Protagonists - Adeel Zafar in Singapore

by Durriya Dohadwala (Source: Artitude)
Fost Gallery’s new show opened on Friday night in the beautiful location of Gillman Barracks. Titled Protagonists, it is a solo show by Pakistani artist Adeel uz Zafar and features 17 artworks. The exhibition will run till 01 September 2013 and is well worth a visit.
Adeel, who trained at Pakistan’s prestigious National College of Arts in Lahore, uses the laborious technique of etching to construct large scale images of well known childhood characters on a surface not commonly used in this field. Vinyl or what we commonly know of as linoleum is the base for his work which is layered in black acrylic to make it sensitive to his mark making. Using a variety of tools like scissors, cutters and knives to score into the vinyl, he meticulously crafts his protagonists. Once made, each mark is permanent- the only way to rectify being to cover and manipulate the lines further. His subjects are familiar childhood objects in the shape of plush soft toys which he buys from a popular Sunday Bazaar in Karachi. Magnified many times over, Adeel’s heroes are wrapped in gauze bandages, sometimes tight and constrictive while at other times loose and breaking free. The folds of the bandages are beautifully rendered, gouged into the vinyl sometimes lightly and sometime deeply to create depth on a two dimensional surface.
Adeel Uz Zafar, Protagonist (Kong and Godzilla) diptych, 2013, Engraved drawing on vinyl, 40.64 x 30.48 cm (LR)gAdeel Uz Zafar, Protagonist (Kong and Godzilla) diptych, 2013, Engraved drawing on vinyl, 35.6 x 30.48 cm (LR)k

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Miniature Paintings Exhibition opens at The Met - Imran Qureshi

Qureshi continues to create new milestones for Pakistan artists with his miniatures exhibition in Gallery 916 of The Met (the first by a Pakistani artist). His contemporary miniatures are juxtaposed with the traditional old miniatures from the Museum's collection. Another must see exhibition !

The Roof Garden Commission: Imran Qureshi's Miniature Paintings            
July 29, 2013–February 2, 2014
Gallery 916 (Source: The Met, NY)
The Roof Garden Commission: Imran Qureshi's Miniature Paintings

"This installation pairs works on paper by Imran Qureshi (born 1972, Hyderabad, Pakistan) with historic miniatures from the Museum's collection. It is presented to complement the artist's painted commission on the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Roof Garden.

The exquisitely detailed paintings by the artists who worked for the Mughal emperors (1526–1857) and other courts on the Indian subcontinent inspired these miniatures. At Lahore's National College of Arts (NCA), Qureshi studied the rigorous techniques of this tradition, which range from gilding and hand crafting the thickly plied, carefully burnished paper supports to the careful application of color with tiny handmade brushes of squirrel fur. As assistant professor in miniatures at NCA, Qureshi now teaches this practice to a new generation of students.

Qureshi continues to find room to experiment within the well-defined strictures of this traditional discipline. In works of the early 2000s, he layered the pages of old textbooks found at a flea market with drawings of scissors or plantlike forms. In more recent examples, such as his ongoing series Moderate Enlightenment, detailed portraits of friends and family in contemporary dress are set in sumptuously gilded landscapes, replete with the meticulous detail found in folios commissioned by the Mughal emperors. For Qureshi, there is an exquisite tension between the stringent parameters of this ancient practice and the modernity of his sitters—one that speaks, in part, to the frictions of a world in which novelty and orthodoxy collide."

Related Exhibition: The Roof Garden Commission: Imran Qureshi (on view May 14–November 3, 2013)


Related Events

Gallery Talk: Gallery Conversation—Miniature Paintings
September 14, 2013 | Free with Museum admission
Free Lecture: Imran Qureshi: Tradition and Reinvention in Contemporary Miniature Painting
September 15, 2013 | Free with Museum admission