The Green Palette

Pakistan has inherited many things from the colonial rule when it became the sovereign state on 14th August 1947 as there was no source of developed knowledge and information other than what the rulers have adopted and then left behind for themselves.

The British took control over a state which was very much a monarchist under the Mughals, but when they left, it had to adopt the all famous democratic system of politics; the thrones, where once the emperors used to sit, fastened the governor general, presidents and prime ministers for the time to come. The army, social institutions, music, sports, couture, cuisine, architecture and administration, in short all walks of life absorbed and displayed a prolific plethora of post colonial western influence as this doctrine was considered the best and the most appropriate one owing to its association with the ruling and powerful class.

The language embraced the modern and non traditional style due to a total extrication from Persian, and partially from Arabic; the two pivotal languages which had remained a mark of distinction and wisdom for the Muslim community, from Neil to Kashghar. Modern Muslims, especially after being put in status with the modern politics by virtue of entirely new and liberal policies of Mohammedan Anglo Indian Conference and the academics of Aligarh College, which later became a university, were well aware of the new philosophy, psychology, architecture, sciences and all other branches of literature and arts, this class actually took over after the birth of new state Pakistan on 14th of August 1947. Therefore, what we introduced to Pakistani arts in common was mostly an inspiration of western modern art of the early 20th century; the fragments of post-modern American or post-war European art.

In the early days of Pakistan Anna Molka Ahmed was in Lahore, a migrated artist from THE UK who also cradled the first generation of Pakistani artists at Fine Arts Department of the Punjab University that she had founded in 1940. This department produced the first batch of four teachers who later shaped early years of Pakistani art; they were Anwar Afzal, Zakia Malik Sheikh, Razzia Feroz and Nasim Hafeez Qazi.

On the other hand, there was Zubeda Agha, who was trained under BS Saniyal and an Italian prisoner of war Mario Perlingieri. Later, she received art education in the west so, she was under immense influence of western style and technique. Zubeda rejected the traditional painting style and emerged as the first modernistic colourist despite resistance from the native critique.

At the same time, Anna Molka was trying to capture the indigenous topics related to religion and folklore, but since she was an expressionist in her technique, the local fauna and flora got ablaze after being expressed through the ‘knife and palette’ technique of her. Anna at times, just squeezed the colour tube on the canvas and dragged it with her knife to get the desired spontaneity and embossed texture. Therefore, what she produced was indigenous in subject but very much western in terms of technique.

Given that the native style was attributed to the Mughal school of Miniature painting that later got popularity up on the hill states of Himachal Pardesh (Basohli, Chamba, Guler, Kangra and Bilaspur) until the Sikh era. Ustad Haji Sharif was one of the exponents of the court style painting owing to the long association of his forefathers to the royal court of Patiala, an important Sikh state of the now Indian Punjab. After his migration to Lahore, Ustad Sharif imparted his knowledge and passed on the ultimate skills of book illumination and illustration at the Department of Fine Arts and the Mayo School of Arts (NCA) Lahore.

Another Ustad, Allah Bakhsh, in the line of traditional and realistic style of the east, contributed to the infancy of Pakistani painting. Allah Bakhsh painted the rich culture and folklore along with a touch of romanticism in subject, especially when he put on canvas the folk love-stories like Heer Ranjha and Sohni Mahiwal and at the same time he, under the influence of modern art and romantic painters of the west, put on a show the mystic canvasses like “Talism-i Hoshruba”.

During this process of evolution, the secular style Miniature painting was breathing at Calcutta, where Abhiander Nath Taygore was a great proponent of the gauche technique. This style inspired the free-flowing hand of Abd al-Rehman Chughtai, who evolved the Bengali style of Miniature painting to unmatched heights. Other than Chughtai, no one could, actually retain the standards of that lyrical line-quality, soft layers of diffused pigments and the stylized approach, although few tried to get acquainted with the technique, but the wisdom and education, Chughtai acquired in the field of art locally and from abroad, and the intelligentsia around him in the shape of his renowned friends, made him the sole example of a style of his own; the Chughtai Style.

Later, Pakistan was spell-bound by a Magician from, Sadequian: a painter with theatrical qualities, dramatic themes and very crude line quality that hatched the texture within the frame to give vent to the philosophical and poetic themes the artist was inspired at a great level. The urge to communicate loudly and more clearly made Sadequian to switch to Calligraphic painting, which later became his identity and was displayed on the large scales like the ceilings and murals at the Lahore Museum and Mangla Dam respectively. Ismail Gulgee was the other advertiser for Calligraphic painting style which, being conceived as “Islamic Art” contrary to the figurative art, attained popularity in the religious groups. Ultimately non-figurative art earned acceptance in the market and flourished in the unfavorable circumstances of the military-Islamic rule of the 1980s.

If we look upon the academic inspirations, other than Anna Molka, we may find Shakir Ali standing tall and exclusive in the scene with his very simple and rhythmic paintings in flat shades of reds, oranges and blues along with varied lines. His textures within the flat colour areas were simple but masterly fashioned and skillfully balanced. His presence at the National College of Arts Lahore made many to follow him in acquiring new and modern techniques that he had his hands on, during his academic stay at London.

In western art, Cezanne, Van Gogh and Gauguin are taken, subsequently as initiators of Cubism, Expressionism and Fauvism. On this pattern, we could divide Pakistani art in three dimensions, the followers of Chughtai, Sadeqauin and Shakir Ali. However, since the latter was the principal and teacher of a renowned Art institution, his impact was immense. For that reason, we could see his followers in the shape of Panj Piyare (the five loved-ones), on the pattern of Akbar’s Navratna (Nine Jewels). These were Raheel Akbar Javed, Sheikh Safdar, A.J. Shamza, Ali Imam and Moyene Najmi. Another reason of this popularity was the style and themes that Shakir introduced to the new generation of late sixties and early seventies, which were more practical and corporeal in execution, even to depict the most abstract and intangible ideas, contrary to the Miniatures of Chughtai or the poetically thematic canvases of Sadequain.

Pakistani institutes imparted education on western lines while the old masters of native conventional styles, mostly took their art to their graves with a little exception of a few numbers of their students.

In Calligraphy, Ahmed Pervez and A. J. Shamza are the names who contributed towards the collective shape of Pakistani art on the grounds of their individual style, but some others made a difference at greater degree. Khalid Iqbal is one, who could be called as the maestro in Landscape painting, with his local colours and western technique of creating enchanting foregrounds and depth in the backgrounds by virtue of his control of tonalities formed through diffusing shades. He introduced Modern Realism to Pakistan, which compelled many to be inspired. Khalid’s presence, first at the Department of Fine Arts and later at the NCA, academically inspired a generation of artists under his fatherly attitude. His immersed but yet soft canvases recorded the different shades of Pakistani soil.

Saeed Akhtar, was another talented graduate from NCA, a draftsman of competency who solved his drawing problems by adopting and applying the observations, he came across while molding sculptures; a way to get adept in three dimensional figurative and portrait painting. The realistic and accurate rendering became his mark of respect.

Zahoor al-Akhlaq, with his philosophical and abstract approach, strengthened the conceptual foundation of modern art in Pakistan and caused NCA to adopt modern styles and techniques in painting.

Punjab University produced Collin David, the most talented and undoubtedly, the most controversial student of Anna Molka for numerous reasons, but a wonderful draftsman of divine linearity he was blessed with. His figurative work showed his anatomical expertise that enabled him to introduce Pakistani art with the flair, on an exaggerated note, of Rubens and Raphael.

Zulqarnain Haider, started as an extension of Khalid Iqbal, by adopting Landscape painting in almost the similar style, but gradually, the Kashmiri restless blood accepted new challenges that nature put ahead of him in changing light, intervening twigs and stretched earth; he captured them from his feet to the vanishing point at horizon, or even beyond.

Ghulam Rasul added the stylization in his Landscapes and enriched the colours of his paintings. He also used the small hills of Potohar as the grey backdrop behind the lush green fields.

Contrary to the Modern Realism of Khalid Iqbal and company, Zubeda Javed emerged as a painter with strong imagination. She is one of those rare female painters of Pakistan, who adopted modern technique of painting Landscapes and Cityscapes, in a manner, that was considered by many, as closed to semi-abstract and Impressionistic. She, with an intuitive colour palette and painterly brush, produced a unique and aesthetically strong display of colours, coming out of deep backgrounds. Her painting style encouraged the modern approach towards colour, composition and light.

English Literature inspired Mian Ijaz al-Hassan to think and act in accordance with the new ideologies that were in vogue in the seventies, his thematic and radical paintings based on communist doctrine disturbed the sound sleep in the upper halls. However, he dug out the fragile soil of Pakistani land with the ‘red scythe’ and sowed the seed of the yellow Laburnum (Amaltas) tree; a pivotal symbol of his paintings.

Iqbal Hussian threw light on the burning and rotten issues related to an abode of notoriety; the red-light area. His Cityscapes might take you to the dark alleys and whispering walls of the old city while his portraits of the bulky and carefree looking women, made a social comment on the unaccepted side of the society.

On the other hand, Ghulam Mustafa crafted a labyrinth comprised of the narrow and shady paths of the walled-city and the lush green mountains of the northern areas with his soft pastels on the textured surface of pastel-sheets or on the well stretched large areas of coarse canvases with oil colours.

Bashir Ahmed initiated the Department of Miniature painting at NCA that inspired many young painters to adopt this conventional painting style. Bashir’s strive to restore the tradition of Miniature painting resulted in Contemporary Miniature that revolutionized this genre in Pakistan.

With torches in the hands of all mentioned above, there were many others along with them, passed on the Pakistan palette to the new generation of painters by stepping into the 21st century.