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NAJMI SURA remembrance of things past


NAJMI SURA remembrance of things past


NAJMI SURA remembrance of things past

text by

Edward Lucie-Smith Art Historian, Author and Critic


Watercolour private collection


I

n her new series of paintings, Najmi Sura evokes the court life of the Indian subcontinent ruled by the Mughal emperors. ‘Ruled by’ is, of course an inexact description. In the days of Mughal sway the Indian subcontinent was divided into a multitude of territories, some ruled directly, others presided over by semiindependent princes, each with his own court. Some of these subordinate rulers were Muslims, others were Hindus. We know about this complex network of states not only through written descriptions – as the British acquired more and more influence in

India, some of the texts we now have are reminiscences penned by British ‘residents’, appointed to keep an eye on potentially unruly princely behavior - but we can also experience this culture more directly, through a wealth of Indian miniature paintings, made to be held in the hand, or looked at in albums. There is a rich store of these in the collections of the Victoria & Albert Museum. Full-scale mural paintings survive, but they are necessarily much less accessible. What Najmi Sura has done is to take the subjects of these courtly miniatures, and


Najmi Sura with Jamil Naqsh at the Modigliani grave, Paris, 2003

also the visual conventions employed by the artists who made them, and enlarge the images to the kind of scale we expect to encounter in European genre-paintings and court portraits. In this sense, her work fits neatly into the framework of ‘appropriation’ – that fashion for being ‘original’ through very pointedly not being original – that has come to dominate some aspects of today’s avantgardism. She is a surprising sister to the ultrafashionable American artist Richard Prince, who ‘appropriates’ Instagram images found on the Web. However, a major difference appears when we look at Sura’s images more closely. Yes, her paintings are marvelously, exquisitely detailed and follow the conventions established by Mughal school artists. She is happy to offer all the intricacies of costume and jewelry that are such a seductive element in the traditional Indian miniatures I have just cited. The rich

Najmi Sura with M. F. Hussain, London

Watercolour private collection


Watercolour private collection


Watercolour private collection


Pencil drawing private collection


Watercolour private collection


fabrics, the glittering weapons, the strings &'& of huge pearls: all are fully present. These $ details do not, however, overwhelm the (#*!' human presence of the people depicted. If one looks closely at their faces, and also !&$$&' perhaps at their hands, one is immediately &!# conscious that one is in the presence of real ( individuals – that is to say of beings, who despite the exoticism of their costumes, , live and breathe like ourselves.

distance. Najmi Sura’s images, by contrast, -&&&%( bring that world vividly to life, and foreground )* her subjects in our consciousness.

effect when we look at them. Their tiny scale serves as a metaphor for a world and a  way of life that is vanishing into the remote

of that often over-used adjective. It is not  entirely a surprise that they are the work of a woman artist.

+&!&$! The effect is strangely hallucinatory. The ! miniatures I have mentioned have a distancing !!$& 

$ We are brought into contact with an exotic & world, but we also perceive that, under the &'( trappings, there are human thoughts, human 0! emotions, universal desires – not at all unlike &&$  our own. I stress the word ‘desires’ because one of the most attractive features of the #$(&' series is the gentle current of eroticism that '% flows through many of the images. These ( are romantic paintings, in multiple senses

  

Najmi Sura, Edward Lucie-Smith and Tony Pontone, Asia House 2013

Edward Lucie-Smith Art Historian, Critic & Author


1 Prince Shahrukh oil on canvas 91 x 61 cm (36 x 24 in)


2 Lady with Parrot oil on canvas 89 x 61 cm (35 x 24 in)


3 Sawant Singh with Bani Thani oil on canvas 91 x 71 cm (36 x 28 in)


4 Princess oil on canvas 91 x 71 cm (36 x 28 in)


5 Reclining Lady oil on canvas 91 x 122 cm (36 x 48 in)


6 Raja with Courtesans oil on canvas 91 x 71 cm (36 x 28 in)


7 Lady with Peacock oil on canvas 102 x 76 cm (40 x 30 in)


8 Shahjahan oil on canvas 102 x 76 cm (40 x 30 in)


9 Reclining Princess oil on canvas 76 x 102 cm (30 x 40 in)


10 Ahmed Shah on Horseback oil on canvas 102 x 76 cm (40 x 30 in)


11 Maharaja of Bundi oil on canvas 91 x 122 cm (36 x 48 in)


12 Lovers oil on canvas 102 x 76 cm (40 x 30 in)


Detail

13 Lady with Hawk oil on canvas 102 x 76 cm (40 x 30 in)


14 Jehangir oil on canvas 102 x 76 cm (40 x 30 in)


15 Raja and Rani oil on canvas 71 x 91 cm (28 x 36 in)


Detail

16 Maharani Tahsi oil on canvas 91 x 61 cm (36 x 24 in)


Detail

17 Royal Procession oil on canvas 91 x 122 cm (36 x 48 in)


18 Emperor Ahmed Shah oil on canvas 102 x 76 cm (40 x 30 in)


19 Naieka oil on canvas 122 x 76 cm (48 x 30 in)


20 Raja with Musicians oil on canvas 91 x 122 cm (36 x 48 in)


21 Dancer oil on canvas 102 x 76 cm (40 x 30 in)


22 Raja Maan Singh oil on canvas 102 x 76 cm (40 x 30 in)


23 Storm oil on canvas 91 x 122 cm (36 x 48 in)


24 Blossom oil on canvas 102 x 76 cm (40 x 30 in)


25 Brothers oil on canvas 102 x 76 cm (40 x 30 in)


Museum Marino Marini, Milan, 2003

Picasso Museum, Paris, 2001


Profile 1951 8th June, born in Karachi, Pakistan 1973 Bachelor of Arts, Karachi University 1974 Started studying Indian Miniature Painting under the guidance of Jamil Naqsh 1979 Painted anti-smoking mural for World Health Organisation 1982 Best Painters Award, Arts Council of Pakistan 2003 Migrated to United Kingdom 2009 Awarded Tamgha-e-Imatiaz, Government of Pakistan 2014 An Epic Romance, Albemarle Gallery, London

Participated in numerous group exhibitions. Two Paintings are in the collection of Jordan Museum of Arts. Major collectors of Pakistan have her works in their collection


EDWARD LUCIE-SMITH Edward Lucie-Smith is an internationally known art critic and historian, who is also a published poet and a practicing photographer. As a photographer he has exhibited in a wide variety of international locations, ranging from Kuala Lumpur to Rio de Janeiro and Kingston, Jamaica. He has published more than a hundred books in all, chiefly but not exclusively about contemporary art. He is generally regarded as the most prolific and the most widely published writer on contemporary art. A number of his art books are used as standard texts throughout the world. Among the languages in which they have appeared are Chinese, Arabic and Persian.

Publisher: Albemarle Gallery | 2016 Text: Edward Lucie-Smith | Art Historian, Critic & Author Curator: Tony Pontone | Albemarle Gallery Design: Sobia Naqsh Photography: Robert Lupu Printers: Oldacres | London Special thanks: Adina Rusu

He has organised exhibitions in a number of galleries worldwide – in Britain, Greece, Germany, the United States, Italy and Estonia, and most recently in Klaipeda, Lithuania. He has also served on the juries of the Cairo, Alexandria and Sharjah Biennials.

Š ALBEMARLE GALLERY 2016 All Rights Reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording or any other storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher.



Najmi Sura