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JAMIL NAQSH an artist between three cultures


JAMIL NAQSH an artist between three cultures

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JAMIL NAQSH – an artist between three cultures Today Jamil Naqsh is one of the best-known artists of modern Pakistan – one who chooses to live in London as a recluse. His personal history is in some ways typical of the upheavals that, in the course of the 20th century, have formed and reformed the culture of the Indian subcontinent. His art is resonant of a much longer period than this, and has a wider cultural reach. He is the heir to the old Mughal regime in India, yet his work also offers a significant narrative about the way in which the artists of the whole subcontinent, not merely those who are now identified with Pakistan, have tried to integrate what they do with the ongoing narrative of Modernism now followed by Post Modernism. This new series of paintings employs motifs that have long been identified with Naqsh’s work, but uses them in ways that, to the European eye at least, seem even more closely attuned than formerly to aspects of the European classical tradition. These are tranquil paintings, sure of the story they want to tell. What is that story? Basically it springs from Mughal tradition, and, linked to that, from the traditions of Urdu love poetry. One very particular expression of this is the poet form known as a ghazal. The master of this form was the 19th century poetic Mirza Ghalib, whose poetry is known to and loved by Urdu speakers throughout the world. To illustrate how it works, I venture to quote a poem of my own, written a couple of years ago as a compliment to the painter.

Companions, Courtesy of Najmi Sura, © Adina Rusu

Jamil Naqsh © Simran Ahmed

An English Ghazal

for Jamil Naqsh

Tonight the pigeon enters her window. The night is hot, therefore an open window. What message arrived With those wings through the window? A flutter of snow In the darkness of the window. You cannot know who speaks So coolly through her window. An insolent rival Sends words through her window. Naqsh was not born in what is now Pakistan. He comes originally from a cultivated Muslim family in Uttar Pradesh, and was one of the millions who were forced to relocate, and to rebuild their lives, because of the Partition that followed World War II. He has vivid childhood memories of the pigeons that flew in and out of the windows of their family house – denizens and symbols of a world forever lost. For him the images of pigeons, so prominent in this new series of paintings, speak not only of clandestine romance, but are also symbolic of a lost epoch of tranquil family life, before the trauma of his mother’s early death, closely followed by the further trauma of the exile that followed Partition. His early training as an artist was at the Mayo School in Lahore (now the National College of Arts) founded


in 1875 and originally named after a British Viceroy. His studies there gave him a thorough grounding in European painting techniques. He was also, at this early period in his career, exposed to the main figures of European 20th century Modernism through the richly illustrated full colour art books and magazines that were now being produced by Western publishers in large editions and exported to markets throughout the globe. His was the first generation of artists in Pakistan to benefit from this post-World War II revolution in colour printing. Through these publications he learned about the work of Picasso,

Modern Manuscript, Courtesy of the Jamil Naqsh Museum.

and that of other leading Modernists, such as the Italian sculptor and painter Marino Marini. Jamil Naqsh was nevertheless determined to honour his roots in the old courtly Muslim culture of the Indian sub-continent, which was part of his family heritage. He therefore also signed up with a master of traditional Mughal miniature painting to study this very different way of making art. Mughal miniatures were essentially a court art form, centered upon the personalities and pleasures of the dynasty that ruled India before the coming of the British raj. The form they took was neither exclusively Indian nor in fact exclusively Muslim. Similar paintings were made at the court of Safavid Persia. They were also made at the courts of the Hindu rulers who held sway over lesser princedoms in the sub-continent that were subject to overall Mughal control. While paintings made for Hindu courts sometimes depicted Hindu deities, those for Muslim patrons, for obvious reasons, did not offer images of divine beings, since any representation of the One God ran counter to Mohammedan orthodoxy.

Jamil Naqsh & Najmi Sura

What these miniature paintings often shared was a spirit of romanticism, linked in turn to the expression of erotic impulses. This second impulse is also present, though in a very different guise, in pre-Islamic Indian sculpture – in particular it can be found in the erotic reliefs on the temples of Kajuraho, which were created between 950 and 1150 c.e.


If one wants to draw a parallel, there are perhaps surprising ones ready to hand. Thinking of Najmi’s role as a muse, one thinks of Diego Rivera’s relationship with Frida Kahlo. And what Naqsh’s work reminds me of, in a historical sense, is the way in which 20th century Latin American art, in the hands of great artists such as Diego Rivera, found ways of embracing Modernity while making full use of the Pre-Colombian and Spanish Colonial roots that were neither available nor relevant to their European contemporaries. Naqsh is doing the same thing for his own country and his own region. Edward Lucie-Smith Art Historian, Author and Critic

View from the Window, Courtesy of the Jamil Naqsh Museum.

Naqsh’s figurative paintings (he also creates purely abstract calligraphic works) take this romantic spirit, and project it on a more ambitious scale, as a testament to modernity and to the contemporary spirit that values statements of creative individuality. The Mughal court artist worked for a patron, and was always subordinate to the wishes of that patron. The contemporary artist speaks for himself. Though he chooses to live as a recluse, Naqsh is very closely engaged with the world that surrounds him. These new compositions, some of young women and birds, others of small, fluttering flocks of pigeons shown without female companions – paintings where the birds’ role as messengers is implied, without being directly stated – take motifs from the traditional culture from which Jamil Naqsh comes and turns them into a powerful new statement about the fashion in which such cultures are now transforming themselves. He also, in a very contemporary way, makes these romantic images into personal metaphors. He has long shared his life with his fellow artist, Najmi Sura, his companion and muse for over forty years. In Pakistan itself, such relationships are still frowned upon. Coming to the West, and living there as a recluse, has paradoxically meant a kind of personal liberation. In the paintings, it is invariably the young woman who is a prisoner in a tower, with the birds coming to her as messengers of freedom. In the artist’s own life, one may dare to guess, the metaphor turns the other way round.

Standing Nude, Courtesy of Najmi Sura, © Adina Rusu


1 Duo oil on canvas 122 x 152 cm (48 x 60 in)


2 Gathering X oil on canvas 91.5 x 122 cm (36 x 48 in)


3 The Messengers oil on canvas 122 x 91.5 cm (48 x 36 in)


4 Emissary oil on canvas 122 x 91.5 cm (48 x 36 in)


5 Envoy oil on canvas 122 x 91.5 cm (48 x 36 in)


6 Taking Flight oil on canvas 122 x 91.5 cm (48 x 36 in)


7 Quartet oil on canvas 122 x 76 cm (48 x 30 in)


8 Arrival oil on canvas 122 x 76 cm (48 x 30 in)


9 Slumber oil on canvas 76 x 122 cm (30 x 48 in)


10 Nestling oil on canvas 122 x 76 cm (48 x 30 in)


11 Arrival II oil on canvas 101.5 x 76 cm (40 x 30 in)


12 Emissary II oil on canvas 101.5 x 76 cm (40 x 30 in)


13 Emissaries oil on canvas 101.5 x 76 cm (40 x 30 in)


14 Ultramarine oil on canvas 101.5 x 76 cm (40 x 30 in)


15 Benin Muse oil on canvas 101.5 x 76 cm (40 x 30 in)


16 The Messengers II oil on canvas 101.5 x 76 cm (40 x 30 in)


17 Septet oil on canvas 101.5 x 76 cm (40 x 30 in)


18 Messenger oil on canvas 101.5 x 76 cm (40 x 30 in)


19 Messenger II oil on canvas 101.5 x 76 cm (40 x 30 in)


20 Unfettered Love oil on canvas 101.5 x 76 cm (40 x 30 in)


21 Arrival III oil on canvas 101.5 x 76 cm (40 x 30 in)


22 Quintet II oil on canvas 91.5 x 61 cm (36 x 24 in)


23 Awakening oil on canvas 61 x 76 cm (24 x 30 in)


24 Quintet oil on canvas 60 x 60 cm (23.5 x 23.5 in)


25 Trio oil on canvas 60 x 60 cm (23.5 x 23.5 in)


1939 1953

25 December, Born in Kairana Uttar Paradesh, India Studied Indian miniature painting with the late Ustad Mohammad Sharif, National College of Arts, Lahore

Honours and Awards 2009 2003 1989 1989 1982 1980 1968 1962 1961

Awarded Sitara-e-Imtiaz – Pakistan Jamil Naqsh; A Retrospective, An extensive retrospective exhibition at Mohatta Palace Museum, Karachi (to date the only artist to have been thus honoured in his lifetime) Pride of Performance Award, Pakistan Pursuit of Excellence Award, The Artist Association of Punjab, Pakistan Contribution of 20 years as a painter, Arts Council of Pakistan Shakir Ali Award, Ministry of Culture, Government of Pakistan First Prize, national competition by Hamdard National Foundation for poster design to find a cure for cancer, for display and distribution by W.H.O Gold Medal, Pakistan Arts Council, Karachi First Prize, Women’s International Club, Karachi

Solo Exhibitions 2016 an artist between three cultures, Albemarle Gallery, London 2015 Art Bahrain, Bahrain, Albemarle Gallery 2015 The Muse, Messengers & Miniatures, Albemarle Gallery, London 2014 An Epic Romance, Albemarle Gallery, London 2013 The Painted Word, Albemarle Gallery, London The Painted Word, DIFC Atrium, Dubai The Painted Word, Asia House, London 2012 Homage to Picasso, Albemarle Gallery, London Doves and Pigeons, Albemarle Gallery, London Homage to Picasso, Asia House, London 2011 A Retrospective, Albemarle Gallery, London 2010 Pigeons and a slice of light, Momart art Gallery, Capital Club, Dubai Pigeons and a slice of light, Momart art Gallery and Jamil Naqsh Museum, Karachi 2009 Homage to Picasso, Momart art Gallery and Jamil Naqsh Museum, Karachi 2008 Homage to Picasso, Nitanjali Art Gallery, at Galerie Romain Rolland, Alliance Francaise de Delhi 2005 Studio Glass Art Gallery, London 2003 Jamil Naqsh: A Retrospective, Mohatta Palace Museum, Karachi Jamil Naqsh for Najmi Sura, private collection of Najmi Sura, Jamil Naqsh Museum and Momart Art Gallery, Karachi 2001 Magic of the Line, Momart Art Gallery, Karachi Jamil Naqsh Museum, Karachi 1999 Jamil Naqsh Museum, formal inauguration, Karachi 1998 Homage to Marino Marini, Jamil Naqsh Museum and Momart Art Gallery, Karachi 1997 Mother and Child, dedicated to Dr. Faridon Setna, a private viewing hosted by Meher and Husain Sheriff, Trustees of Jamil Naqsh Foundation 1996 Private viewing hosted by Amina and Jehangir Tareen, Trustees of Jamil Naqsh Foundation, Lahore Modern Manuscripts, Momart Art Gallery, Karachi Beyond Words, The Art Gallery, lslamabad Homage to Marino Marini, Momart Art Gallery, Karachi Jamil Naqsh Foundation and Museum, established in Karachi 1971 Pakistan Arts Gallery, Karachi 1967 Pakistan Arts Council, Karachi


1965 1963 1962

The Pak-Brazil Friendship Association, Beach Luxury Hotel, Karachi Pakistan Arts Council, Karachi Pakistan Arts Council, Lahore

Special Projects 1977 1974 1973 1960/8 1970-73

Mural executed in oil on canvas for the Shakir Ali Museum, Lahore Mural executed in oil on canvas for the Cancer Society of Pakistan, Karachi Calligraphy executed in oil on canvas for the Hamdard National Foundation Served as co-editor of Seep Urdu Literary Quarterly and Arts International President, Pakistan Painters Guild

Group Exhibitions 2015 Masterpiece 2015, London 2012 Nude, Albemarle Gallery, London 2011 Olympia Art Fair, Kensington Olympia, London 2007 Rhythms of Illumination, Nitanjali Art Gallery, Grand Hyatt, Dubai Resplendent Reveries, Nitanjali Art Gallery, Grand Hyatt, Dubai Uninterrupted Journeys, Nitanjali Art Gallery, ITC Grand Central, Mumbai 2006 Euphonic Palettes - Dubai, Nitanjali Art Gallery, Grand Hyatt, Dubai Euphonic Palettes, Nitanjali Art Gallery, Galerie Romain Rolland, Alliance Francaise de Delhi, sponsored by Deutsche Bank Pakistani Master’s Show, Nitanjali Art Gallery at Park Hotel, New Delhi Ibteda – The Beginning, Gandhara – Art.com (Pakistan’s virtual exhibition) Paintings and Sculptures by 45 Artists, Momart Art Gallery, Karachi 2005 lndian Art Unbound II, Nitanjali Art Gallery at the Grand Hyatt, Dubai Miniature Show, Momart Art Gallery, Karachi 2004 Modern Calligraphic Paintings & Ceramics, Momart Art Gallery, Karachi 2003 Recent paintings by 23 Painters, Momart Art Gallery, Karachi Modern Calligraphic Paintings & Ceramics, Momart Art Gallery, Karachi 2002 Modern Calligraphic Paintings & Ceramics, Momart Art Gallery, Karachi 2001 Modern Calligraphic Paintings & Ceramics, Momart Art Gallery, Karachi 2000 Watercolours by 20 Painters, Momart Art Gallery, Karachi Paintings by 15 Painters, Momart Art Gallery, Karachi 1999 Recent Paintings by 20 Painters, Momart Art Gallery, Karachi 1998 Drawings, Prints & Etchings, Momart Art Gallery, Karachi Modern Calligraphic Paintings & Ceramics, Momart Art Gallery, Karachi 1997 Modern Calligraphic Paintings & Ceramics, Momart Art Gallery, Karachi 1995 Watercolour Exhibition, Momart Art Gallery, Karachi Group Show, Momart An Gallery, Karachi 1992 India Asia Museum, Pasadena, CA, U.S.A Trivandrun and New Delhi 1972 Painters from Pakistan, Pakistan National Council of Arts in Paris, London, Munich, New York, Sao Paulo, Tokyo, Italy, Libya, Morocco, Ghana and Sudan 1970 Gallerie Christoph Durr, Munich, West Germany 1964 Painters from Pakistan, Ceylon 1963 Painters from Pakistan, Nepal 1953 National Art Competition, Multan


Jamil Naqsh Museum Karachi, Pakistan.


The inauguration of the relocated Jamil Naqsh Museum is planned for December 2016 (date to be confirmed).


© Photography by Changwoo Ryu © ALBEMARLE GALLERY MMXVI


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Jamil Naqsh