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Crossing Frontiers: Pakistani Miniature Exhibition in India

Crossing Frontiers: Pakistani Miniature Exhibition in India
A show by six young Pakistani miniaturists captures interest in India. It was under the influence of the late Zahoor-ul-Akhlaque, that the painters trained at the National College of the Arts (NCA) made the leap from the constraints of the freedom of contemporary practice.
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  • “Manoeuvering Miniatures” was a show by six young Pakistani painters, which took Delhi’s gallery-frequenting afficiados by surprise in November 2001. The show was curated by Virginia Whiles, a doctoral candidate from S.O.A.S University of London currently researching contemporary miniature painting. She is also Lecturer in Art History and Theoretical Studies at the National College of the Arts, Lahore.

  • The show was held at the invitation of Khoj International Artists’ Workshop at the India International Centre to coincide with a seminar on Issues in Asian Art. The preview was attended by leading art curators, gallery owners, critics, collectors and artists in Delhi, Among them were well-known names like Al-Kazi, Gujrati Sinha, Geeti Sen, Yashodra Dalmia, Pooja Sood, Sheba Chachi, Rajiv Sethi, Paramjeet Singh, Arpita Singh, Shamshad Hussain, Sanjeev Bharjar, Arpana Caur and numerous others, Pooja Sood, the coordinator of ‘Khoj’, is known for her initiatives in pioneering interactions between the artists of South Asia. Visiting the Vasl International Artists Workshop held in Karachi in January 2001, Pooja was struck by the work of Pakistani artists trained in the techniques of miniature painting in Lahore. Determined that the work be seen in India, she arranged for it first to be exhibited at the network meeting of Asian artists and curators in Delhi, and then to travel to the Sakshi Gallery in Mumbai.

  • As she put it, “This exhibition raises several pertinent questions of ‘tradition’ and ‘authenticity’ of cultural stereotyping vis-à-vis the international gaze and other such issues within contemporary art practice, not only in Pakistan, but in the entire region.”

  • As it happened, the issues inherent in the work of the young artists were crucial to many of the discussions at the Seminar. They were also relevant to the artists and audience at the show. There was an atmosphere of excitement and animation, and the Pakistani artists present at the opening were deluged by questions and compliments. In a lecture preceding the opening, the show’s curator, Virginia Whiles explored the raison d’etre of the contemporary miniature movement of the Pakistan. Virginia noted that it was under the influence of the late Zahoor-ul-Akhlaque, that the painters trained at the National College of the Arts (NCA) made the leap from the constraints of the freedom of contemporary practice.

  • The energy which manifests itself in the work of these six painters draws its contents from diverse concerns and issues. These concerns are expressed in an equally varied way; manipulating traditional techniques in an innovative and expressive manner. Sources for the imagery cover the gamut from popular culture, to political realities.

  • Risham Syed’s works go beyond traditional format and techniques. She links her childhood memories and the Victorian mores prevalent in middle class society to gender issues and the socio- political arena.

  • Nusra Latif, currently studying in Australia, has looked at the colonial legacy and layered it with the familiar, accepted iconography of the Mughal miniature. To quote the curator, “Latif’s aim is to challenge the familiar codes of framing conventions.”

  • “In the work of the six artists, experimentation is taking place at both formal and conceptual levels. Alongside the evident homage paid to their lineage of masters, current practice seeks to push the limits of miniature painting, literally and metaphorically, beyond the margins.” Virginia Whiles

  • Imran Qureishi’s work treats the serious theme of nuclearization of the sub-continent with lightness and humour. The missiles in his paintings are endearingly fragile as they struggle to appear menacing.

  • Saira Waseem makes fun of the pomposity and grandeur of political leadership in South Asia. She mixes images, expertly applying gold leaf and spectacular colour.

  • Aisha Khan, nowadays a UNESCO Bursary in Amsterdam, explores the seclusion of women. Smothered by textile and pattern, they seem reduced to motifs in a claustrophobic interior. Yet her work is curiously defiant and celebrates the human spirit.

  • Waseem Ahmed, the youngest artist in the show, renders images drawn from celebrated masterpieces of European art history, but gives them a twist. He drapes the female nudes in a transparent burqa, tripping up the male gaze with impurity and humour.

  • The excellent level of skills displayed in the show, was well matched by the clarity of thought which sought to subvert the many stereotypes, ‘within’ and ‘without’ the discourse of contemporary South Asian Art. As such, the show initiated the possibility of faithful dialogue and future exchanges between artists in South Asia, to the benefit of all audiences. It demonstrated that the creative spirit in artist, writers and poets may lead the way to that elusive goal of peace and goodwill.

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