(by VEERA RUSTOMJI)
It is no secret that Pakistan has had a turbulent run since 1947 and continues to struggle with its reigns. A seemingly endless series of waves have crashed through our economy, urban development and sense of humanity, washing away the last traces of patriotism. A possible reason for this could be that the citizens from our country, which was created for the very essence of freedom of religion, forget that the single most important binding factor in Islam is faith, and if there is something that we have lost more than patriotism it is faith, our human instinct which challenges the negative atmosphere and urges us to push forward.
As an art student, I find that to be successful at your work one needs to have faith as well, faith in your skill and your concept. Being a dedicated student or employee is an obvious key ingredient to live a prosperous life and we all experience the emotion at times. An artist who really embodied the aura of faith in his work but in the most unique way was Ustad Allah Baksh. Born in the late 19th century, the visionary has been classified as one of Pakistan's 'Great Masters' in art, because of his resilient courage and enthusiasm in portraying the people of Pakistan. We can understand that the nature of his work reveals that Ustad Allah Baksh knew that the true spirit of a country lied with its people, especially the masses of people living in the rural areas. The simplicity of their surroundings is contrasted with the vibrancy of their movement and depictions of culture.
An immerging talent from the subcontinent, Ustad Allah Baksh extrapolated the best from the influx of cultures and religions which resonated from every province. The trademark indications in his work were slowly noticed and are now immediately picked up on. Jalal Hameed, tracing down the steps of Ustad Allah Baksh says, "Ustad Allah Bakhsh's artwork is rich and expressive. His paintings show lot of people and when seen closely, each face gives a different expression, mood and style. All along he had his own distinctive and unique romantic style from which he never transgressed nor anyone else could imitate or replicate. His masterpieces include Sohni Mahiwal, Heer Ranjha, Sohni Dharti, Tilism-e-Hoshruba, besides painting many festivities and rural scenes of Punjab. Although his basic theme revolved around his own cultural heritage, he is also said to have been inspired by the classical western paintings, which may be attributed to his extensive movement to Bombay and Calcutta where the British artwork had influenced the local artists."
Having been associated with miniature art, the style was not the sole conveyor of Allah Baksh's talent and artistic inclinations. However having been trained under the watchful eyes of Master Abdullah, the artist reached a level of perfect in the strenuous and immaculate task of miniature painting by the age of 14. Another noteworthy 'groomer' of the artist was Meeran Bakhsh Naqash, the vice principal of the Mayo School, now the National College of Arts in Lahore.
With the combination of styles and inspirations, Ustad Allah Baksh reached a practically ethereal quality to his paintings. Through a personal and thorough analysis of his folklore paintings, one will recognise the setting and composition from Western renaissance paintings. The larger than life canvases and wall reliefs draped cathedrals and buildings. As the British Raj brought their preferred style of art to the Indian Empire, Allah Baksh intended on infusing his work with this classical nature of art.
There is a perpetual sense of serendipity and calmness in his folklore paintings which contrasts with the vivid celebration of life, culture and being Pakistani in his paintings. Perhaps it is the intensity of the hue in the water colours and the contrasts of whites and blacks in his pencil shading work. The range of Ustad Allah Baksh's work investigates the little nuggets of our cultural heritage. There is so much romance and personal involvement from the artist, for example while considering a painting of Heer and Ranjiha's first encounter, the bright colours of the drapery and dupattas meld well into the soft greens and Indian vegetation surrounding the crowd. The range of colours and the very postures and positions of figures around the couple signify a tale worthy of celebration. Having encapsulated the initiation of love through art work the artist continued to conjure scenes of human emotion.
Whether it was a man heaving through fields of soil with cattle, or an eastern fairytale setting of the gaze of two lovers, the viewer can hear the bull's strain, the plough pushing up the earthy ground or smell the jasmine perfume on the heroine and the musky scent of tobacco on the raja's moustache.
Another magnificent painting by Ustad Allah Baksh, is the "Tilism-e Hoshruba" hanging in the Lahore Museum. The circular pattern of action and figures which rotate around in the painting is an instant reminder of Western classical art, especially Italian Renaissance paintings capturing scenes of action. The glinting golden lighting allows the people in the back of the painting to bathe in the glory of the subtle yellow water colours hailing from the skies. This feature also draws a parallel to many paintings commissioned by the Church for reliving the resonating light of Christ on canvas.
Understanding every single wrinkle of the skin in his subjects to a blade of grass in his miniature paintings, Ustad Allah Baksh's work enamours art critics, artists and museums internationally. This is most probably because the world rarely gets to see something so beautiful and diverse. Communicating with lyricism and movement, the portraits which Allah Baksh painted, some commissioned for royals and some of labourers and ordinary people, the artist managed to make a perfect blend of the fairytale and the realistic. With the formation of Pakistan, the artist, like many others watched a revolutionary yet painful time in his homeland, the sensitive and observant nature of Ustad Allah Baksh caused him to keep creating art for the people and truly managed to represent their traditions and lifestyle. He is remembered for sharing his talent and skill as a teacher (he would not charge for his services), an artist, a freedom fighter and a man who never lost hope for his people.