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  • Aug 26th, 2006
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Freedom fighters and subjects related to the Pakistan Movement had been a regular feature of Independence Day postage stamps. On 59th birth anniversary of Pakistan the topic was however, different. And the long awaited series projecting Painters of Pakistan was launched by the Pakistan Post on August 14, 2006.

The set of colourful stamps is a tribute to ten celebrated painters who helped raise awareness of Art in Pakistan and established their names globally in the world of Art.

Any discussion of the contemporary art movement in Pakistan must begin by inquiring into its cultural past, particularly in view of the rich and unique artistic tradition and the heritage of its people.

The historical circumstances, which have subscribed to Pakistan, are often referred to as a 'crucible' of cultures, a traditional meeting point of the East and West. One may trace influences of the Aryan and pre-Aryan eras; the Buddhist and the Greek, the Mughal and the Rajput cultural elements. All these influences are clearly visible, though aesthetically integrated, in the artworks of the artists who have inhabited these regions over a period of four to five thousand years.

The art of painting, modelling and engraving are deeply rooted in this land. Creative artists and their work flourished here through successive periods of history and pre-history. The last of these periods, and the nearest to our own time historically was dominated by the Mughal, a dynamic, vigorous and highly artistic people.

In the course of several centuries they became fully integrated with the local population, and greatly contributed to the cultural renaissance in the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent. All these works of individual artists are sensitive to a multiplicity of influences while at the same time striving to evolve individual expressions of their own.

SHAKIR ALI (1916-1975):

Born in Rampur, Shakir Ali had received an extensive art education at the J.J. School of Art, Bombay, the Slade School of Art, London, in France with Andre L'Hote, and in Prague, before he came to Pakistan. He began by painting in the style of Braque, making bull's heads and still life in a Cubist manner. Later, found his own style in which human figures, horses and cattle were reduced to their basic structure in a few bold, powerful lines. There was masterly economy in his style and tremendous force in his line. The distortion of the natural form was based on a close study of nature.

Shakir Ali is acknowledged as the founder of modern art in Pakistan, and he introduced the philosophy and developments in art to a generation of young artists.

His position as a teacher gave him a special opportunity to influence the young artists of Lahore. Moreover, his friendly nature brought him in touch with a large section of the cultural world, his persuasive and sincere manner of talking helped him to bring round the young artists to his manner of thinking. Once a discussion with artists and art critics Shakir Ali said. "I am not totally abstract.

This is a period of symbolism. Every artist passes through this period and I think I am also passing through this period. Similarly the moon and flowers which shine equally all over the world, symbolised universality".

In this connection, it is relevant to quote some observations that Shakir Ali made in a talk he gave before a gathering in Lahore in 1966.

"Each one of us is born with a bird, free unfettered, reaching out for the infinite. But owing to the prejudices of our civilisation, the restriction of our families and the superimposition of convention, that bird is caged and loss its notes of freedom. I am trying to find that bird in men. And if I do, I will pass it on.

That bird will go right from me to you". Shakir Ali was one of the first artists to explore calligraphy in a painting style. He died on January 27, 1975, a few days after he attended the funeral of Abdur Rahman Chughtai. He was awarded President's Award for the Pride of Performance in 1967 and Sitara-e-lmtiaz in 1971.

ANNA MOLKA AHMED (1917-1994):

Anna Molka Ahmed was born on August 13, 1917 in London. She was the first art teacher in Pakistan to take her students outdoor to paint their surroundings. Her own work, thick impasto impressions often appear to capture the very essence of sunshine. Professor Emeritus, Punjab University Fine Arts Department, her pioneering work in the field of art education is incalculable. Recognition of her work is documented by way of national awards, which include the Tamgha-i-Imtiaz, in 1963, The President's Award for the Pride of Performance in 1969 and also the Khudeja Tul Kubra Medal.

A child of mixed Russian and Polish parentage, she was born in 1917 and was drawn to art at an early age. Defying parental disapproval, Anna achieved first a scholarship to St. Martin's School of Art in London, followed by a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Art.

She met and married fellow artist, Sheikh Ahmed, and left her native London to make her home in the Punjab. Anna Molka set fourth to change art education in Pakistan and launched the Fine Arts Department in the Punjab University in 1940, which she continued to head for over three decades.

Professor Anna Molka Ahmed's students were instrumental in establishing Fine Arts Departments throughout Pakistan and many have gained recognition in the art world.

After her retirement, she took great satisfaction in concentrating on her painting, still vibrant and full of interest inspite of health problems. Anna is part of the beginning of art developments in Pakistan. I am, once she said "the Mother of all the artists." The artists are fortunate, she was a gallant matriarch and a great lady. Died in Lahore on April 21, 1994.

SADEQUAIN (1930-1987): Born in Amroha in 1930 and graduated from Agra University, Sadequain was one of the most prolific artists of Pakistan. He was wholly self-taught and after some efforts, crystallised his art into a very distinct and personal idiom. Sadequain made his name as a painter of large murals in public buildings, the first of which was in Jinnah Hospital and the second at Karachi Airport in 1957 where he painted Sindhi and Balochi women with their long embroidered gowns, carrying water pitchers.

In 1960 he was awarded Tamgha-i-Imtiaz by the government, won top honours in a national Art Exhibition and was invited to Paris by the French Committee of the International Association of Plastic Arts. There, he was awarded at the Paris Biennale.

From 1969 to 1985, he devoted himself to calligraphy, of which he developed an entirely new style. His calligraphic style is an icon of standard and widely followed. He painted the different verses of the Sura Rahman from the Quran and made each verse into a painting. Painterly calligraphy became popular with all artists and the public in Pakistan after Sadequain.

Sadequain travelled intensively for long periods of time, showing his work in London, New York, Australia, Romania and Russia. He journeyed through India for two years, showing his work in major cities, painting and sketching ceaselessly. In 1972, he was engaged in painting the ceiling of the Lahore Museum with the epic mural, The Evolution of Mankind.

Shortly before his death, he again came back to painting and was working on the most prodigious painting project of his life on the theme "Man and his Universe" when he died, leaving it only three-fourth complete. It has been installed on the ceiling of Liaquat Hall (former Frere Hall) in Karachi by his pupil, Anwar. He received Pride of Performance in 1962.

ALI IMAM (1924-2002):

Ali Imam started painting in 1941 when he joined the evening classes of the Nagpur School of Art. He held his first one-man show at Rawalpindi in 1952. Included in this exhibition were watercolour street scenes of Lahore of pastoral activity, such as winnowing, threshing by village women. After graduating from Gordon College, Rawalpindi, in 1949; he worked with peasants in villages as a Communist party worker till 1951.

His observation of village life was projected in his paintings, like Punjabi village women at their homely tasks, churning curd to make butter, grinding corn and pounding spices with mortar, the women sat on low high-backed chairs, typical of rural Punjab. In his work figures are utterly simplified and are heavily swathed in loose garments.

Ali Imam went to London in 1956 where he lived upto 1967. On his return, he developed a simple yet sophisticated style in which human figures, horses and other objects were shown in his paintings with soft subdued greys, blues, browns and yellows and neutral colours.

Later his design quality became less but great emphasis given on the text of the paint. For this he laid pigment on pigment in related hues in such dots and patches so that the lower layers glimmered through and certain colours vibrations were created.

Ali Imam was of the first generation of Pakistan artists and a great art promoter. From 1970 till 2002 he was running the Indus Gallery Karachi where many notable artists have held their first shows.

His sole aim was to promote artist, create a public awareness and educate art collectors, May 23, 2002, was the day, when a very important chapter of Pakistan art history closed. He was awarded Tamgha-i-Imtiaz and President's Award for the Pride of Performance.

ZUBEIDA AGHA (1922-1997):

Her birth place is Layallpur now Faisalabad, a woman with the courage of her convictions, Zubeida lived her life for art, creating paintings that will enable future generations to share her extraordinary vision.

Zubeida Agha graduated in Philosophy from Kinniard College and cast about for explanations for her wildly coloured dreams about painting. She began her study of art with Sanyal in Lahore.

In her early work, she attempted to explore the theme in the medium of sculpture, also surrealistic paintings, done in somber colours with titles "Wisdom", "Beethoven's Fifth Symphony", "Deserted Street" and so on. Offered an art scholarship in 1950, Zubeida enrolled at St. Martin's School of Arts, London but six months later transferred to the Ecole des Beau Arts, Paris and there, she began her serious study of art.

Zubeida thoroughly explored the possibilities of colour, returning to Pakistan in 1953, with an intense, vigorously imaginative style of painting. Her opinions on modern art developments were definite. What is the point of painting problems, does it solve anything? Galleries, are more interested in sales than standards and the artists are complicit in this, "Without sincerity there is no true art," she once said. In 1965, Zubeida Agha was Awarded the President's Award for the Pride of Performance.

LAILA SHAHZADA (1926-1994):

Laila Shahzada's early years of schooling were spent in England. Adolescence was spent in the family home in India, where she was surrounded by the traditions of the past. She spoke of silver furniture, bowls of pearls, iridescent ornaments cool to the touch that were intrinsic ingredients of this period in her life. Reality came with partition, when life itself became the only object to be considered.

Her earliest paintings of the 1950s were delicate tentative, in marked contrast to the later forceful work executed as 'Drift Moods'. Initially trained in England in drawing and watercolour, Laila received early encouragement in Pakistan from Fyzee Rahamin and his musicologist wife, Attiya Begum. In those days, there were few women artists in Pakistan, and it was Nagi who taught her to use oils.

She made a great impact on the media when the "Drift Moods" paintings were exhibited in 1964, a series inspired by pieces of driftwood battered into distorted forms by the power of the sea. These Laila compared to the human conditions, forced into unnatural shapes by stronger powers. Later inspired by the artifacts of the Indus Valley Civilisation, she worked on a series titled "Moenjodaro", shown in New York, where she was awarded a gold medal and the Key of the city of New York in 1975.

Laila has painted seventy historical paintings, a substantial contribution to this genre. In 1995 her work was included in an exhibition of Paintings from Pakistan at the Pacific, Asia Museum, California where her landscape paintings were graded with those of Georgia O'keefe. She was awarded the Tamgha-i-Imtiaz in 1986, and in 1994 was posthumously awarded The President's Award for the Pride of Performance.

AHMED PARVEZ (1926-1979):

Ahmed Parvez born in Rawalpindi on June 7, 1926 was a most prolific painter. From 1955 to 1964, he lived in London and there developed a purely abstract style in which short swift strokes, arcs, ellipses, whorls and circles, were used to build up a design that seemed to explode and erupt and fly apart but were firmly held together in a coherent pattern.

Parvez was renewed for painting of ingenious and intricate abstract compositions. From his first solo exhibition in 1952 to his last in 1979, Parvez passed through many phases as a painter. During all these years his work was marked by bursts of nervous energy expressed in vigorous short strokes sharp turns and twists of the line.

Though his work is prismatically colourful, it is basically linear. He conceived a composition and drew, often in thick black line, filled with intense bright colours, which many linked to jewels. Some of his linear motifs are like Islamic arabesque made up of long hooks, loops, curls, elongated shapes and tear shapes, but in Parvez they are not languid but always bursting with an contemporary in character.

Parvez was awarded President's Award for the Pride of Performance in 1978.

BASHIR MIRZA (1941 -2000):

Bashir Mirza was born in Amritsar. His father was a woodwork designer. He came to Pakistan on August 14, 1947. After graduating from National College of Arts with distinction in 1962. Bashir set off for Karachi to seek fame and fortune. On the strength of his work he was offered a job at the Pakistan Security corporation in 1962 and accepted it with alacrity as his first stepping stone to independence. He was impatient to explore other avenues and handed in his registration. Soon after leaving his first post, Bashir joined an advertising agency, where his creative ability outweighed his resistance to routine. His salary increased and he learned a lot about the business of advertising and public relations.

Bashir planned to open an Art Gallery at the end of 1965, it was a milestone of an art event. Artists of Lahore and Karachi contributed work to the premiere exhibition and a select group of invitees, artists, the media, diplomats and VIPs attended the smart reception.

During the gallery years BM painted a large body of work. He was above all a figurative painter; the human form and how it mirrored individual emotions fascinated him. As a device, he incorporated contrasting abstract elements in his work, very individual and very much of his own style.

From 1969 to 1971, he visited Germany and on return painted two very striking series, which he called "The Lonely Girl" series and "Flower Flowers" series. This series heralded a major period in Bashir Mirza's creative maturity, highlighting the artist's superb manipulation of his medium and brilliant sense of composition. In the first, lightly clad females were shown in dramatic poses with billowing costumes of diaphanous material with bright colours. In the second, square canvases were filled with a woman's head and a magnified flower. In 1989 he painted on large canvases some of the faces he had drawn in pen and ink in his portfolio "People of Pakistan" From 1990 till death he had been painting in thick brush strokes vigorously applied, under the influence of the Indian artist F.N. Souza, but with brighter colours and more attractive forms, with great spontaneity, He was awarded President's Award for the Pride of Performance in 1994.


Zahoorul Akhlaque joined the famous art institute of Lahore in 1958 when it was elevated from the Mayo School of Art to the National College of Art. The College was fortunate to get in those years a new Principal in the person of Professor Sponenburgh while Shakir Ali was promoted Professor of Art. As a student of Fine Art, Zahoor came in close contact with Shakir Ali and received his close attention and encouragement. After graduation from the College in 1962, Zahoor joined as a teacher in the Fine Arts Department.

Under the influence of such a highly gifted teacher and guide it was natural for Zahoor to be influenced by the Cubist style and other modern ideas of Shakir Ali.

He used the format of the manuscript page and the royal edict with calligraphic effects in his paintings before going to London. There he was irresistibly drawn towards the Mughal miniatures in the British Museum. During 1966-67, he studied at the Hornsey College of Art, London and during 1968-69 at the Royal College of Art. Four years of higher education in these famous art institutions and the opportunity to see and study an treasures of London, helped the artist to evolve and mature.

In the huge painting that he displayed in the National Exhibition held at Lahore in March, 1985, Zahoor took up a nationalist theme, the heroes of the Pakistan Movement, which was formally launched at Lahore in March, 1940. The canvas was divided into small squares and many of them were filled with small portraits of the makers of Pakistan.

These were actually photographs pasted and painted over. In the center was a large portrait of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

One of the artists memorable paintings was titled, "A Study for a Butterfly". It shows a huge black cloud representing an atomic explosion. Caught in this fearful dark cloud is a colourful butterfly painted in bright green and orange. It is bravely fluttering its way through deadly smoke, as the symbol of hope and surviving life. Zahoor lost her life accidentally along with his daughter on January 18, 1999.

He was awarded, the President's Award for the Pride of Performance, award posthumously in 2005.

ASKARI MIAN IRANI (1940-2004):

In 1967, Askari graduated from N.C.A. in Commercial Design and not painting, which he would have personally preferred, but his father wanted to see him as commercial designer.

Till 1976, he remained in the business of advertising, but became disillusioned and dissatisfied with the nature of his job. His first love and passion had always been painting and he felt that his potential as painter was being stifled. So a job opening in the design department of N.C.A., seemed timely. In 1976 he came back to Lahore, joined NCA ; Assistant Professor of design, and was promoted to Associate Professor till his retirement in 2000.

In his mature work, Askari Mian Irani developed a new style, assimilating alphabets, syllables and numerical. Architectural elements both structural and decorative, equestrian figures in princely costumes, derived from the country visions of Mughal India, were all part of his idiom. Glowing with colours, rich with textures, his paintings show a vast variation in the use of eastern motifs. Askari plucks them from their traditional context to place them in visually different and exciting variations, making paintings come alive with a fresh immediacy.

His paintings communicate to viewers on different levels and can be appreciated equally by those for whom the motifs mean something, as well as those for whom they are no more than elements of design. He was awarded the President's Award for the Pride of Performance in 2002.

Stamp sheetlet was designed by Adil Salahuddin (Pride of Performance) and printed by Pakistan Post Foundation Press (Security Division), Karachi in lithography.

Stamp size being 58x30mm were perforated 13x13 (comb), using PVA gum. The printer applied Invisible Blue Fibers (visible only under UV light) all over the surface of stamp sheetlet, to counter forgery.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2006

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