Symbols of Universal Beauty

  • 20 Jan - 26 Jan, 2018
  • Marjorie Husain
  • Art

Clifton Art Gallery recently hosted numerous art enthusiasts who were keen to view the recent work of one of the country’s most senior painters – Mariam Saeedullah.

She is an artist who is well known in many parts of the globe, one who began to study arts as a teenage bride in Lahore, 1947. There she used to enjoy painting and drawing the flowers in her garden. Her friendly neighbours invited her for tea one day, where she discovered they were infact artists Sheikh Ahmed and Anna Molka Ahmed, who were busy setting up the Fine Arts department of the Punjab University those days.

Both the artists encouraged Mariam to persue arts after viewing her work, and she joined Sheikh Ahmed’s art class on the Mall, cycling to his studio everyday. Since those times spent in Lahore, she has been fascinated by the history of Mughal miniature art and in her recent exhibition, showed a number of paintings in this series.

The artist’s experience has been wide and fascinating. Her husband was in the foreign office and was soon posted to Milan. There, Mariam joined the Brera Academy to study a course of art and art history focused on the Renaissance period.

Her next home was in Bonne, close to a Rosenthal workshop, where she often observed the beautiful china pieces of being hand painted. Her own designs were accepted by the director of the plant, before she moved to Japan.

During her seven years in Japan, Mariam ‘found herself as an artist’. She studied Japanese fine art at the University of Tokyo. Initially, she didn’t know Japanese but found the teachers had some basic knowledge of English and she worked by example.

Mariam learnt the art of Sumi-e and was taught to use colour, chemicals and dye together and steam them into fabric so that the colour became an integral part of the cloth. On finishing her course, the artist was officially presented with a seal to use as signature in her work, and was given the name ‘Tranquility’. Looking at Mariam’s work today, one can see the treasured red seal of her signature.

In her recent exhibition, one discovered the influences of her earliest inspiration; the Mughal Schools of Art, and a series of winged symbols, the birds whose grace and beauty have inspired legends and admiration through the ages. The charm and style of the artist’s subjects create a record of the earliest appreciation of beauty in history that has been divined and recognised universally.

In diverse, widespread mythology, a bird is a symbol of the soul as it rises to heaven. In ancient times, larger birds were associated with solar and sky deities. The Japanese crane was considered to be a messenger of the gods, carrying the fate of human beings in its beak in the shape of a twig or scroll.

The dove was an attribute of peace, and a pair of doves widely recognised as a symbol of love. In Japan the dove is a symbol of long life and fidelity. It was also associated with the Japanese god of war, symbolising the peace to follow.

The eagle has been associated with solar and sky deities from earliest times. It was known as the ‘bringer of rain’, symbolising the deity of agriculture.

Throughout history, in numerous forms of art, one finds birds admired and deified for their beauty. These were the symbols used for communication throughout the world before human beings began to read and write.

Painting on canvas and Japanese paper, the artist uses many colouring materials including gouache, vegetable dye, oil and watercolours.

Through the years, the expertise and skill in her use of media ensures her work will retain its beauty for times to come. She has her own way of working, often using a steaming process when using oil on canvas, ensuring her winged messengers continue to shine through the years. •