• 29 Sep - 05 Oct, 2018
  • Marjorie Husain
  • Art

Recently, an unusual art show took place at the Canvas Gallery, that was participated by around 30 young artists. Curated by Sara Pagganwala, the show was one-of-a-kind opportunity for the artists who got together to discuss their thoughts on ‘Performance Art’.

Gazing at the work of the young artists, took one back to the early days of art in Pakistan, and one mused on how changes have taken place. Art enthusiasts today owe a lot to the earlier generations who, though they garnered little appreciation, worked for their own personal love for art. Such a person was Anna Molka Ahmed.

Born in London in 1917, she gained a scholarship from the Royal Academy of Art, London in 1939. In London she met and married artist Sheikh Ahmed and made her home in Punjab. At that time the governing body of the Punjab University was keen to set up a department for women and advertised the post for a suitable woman. Anna Molka applied for the post and at the age of 22, she set the department up.

She was the first teacher in the country to take her students outdoors to paint. In 1952 she established the first series of regular art exhibitions in the country.

Her own first solo exhibition was held in Karachi at the Pakistan American Cultural Centre as it was the centre of art activity in town. Her work expressed her suffering at he violence and suffering of war.

In later years when bedridden and too weak to paint, she published books of poetry. Since then, appreciation for her work continues to grow.

In 1949, Zubeida Agha created art history in Karachi when, at YMCA, (there was no art gallery back then) she exhibited the first abstract art exhibition the country had ever witnessed. The reaction to the work was mixed and a controversy raged in the media for weeks. In 1950 Zubeida Agha joined the Ecole Des Beaux, PARIS, and in her own words began her serious study of art.

Initially trained in England in drawing and watercolour art, Laila Shahzada received early encouragement in Pakistan from Fyzee Rahamin and his wife Atiya Begum who introduced her work at a garden party in their home. In those days there were few women artists in Pakistan, and it was Nagi who taught her how to use oils. Laila made a great impact on the media when her ‘Drift Mood’ paintings were exhibited in 1964, a series inspired by pieces of driftwood by the power of the sea.

Later, inspired by the Indus Valley Civilization, she worked on a series titled ‘Moenjodaro’, shown in New York where she was awarded a Gold Medal, and the key of New York.

In 1995 her work was included in an exhibition of paintings from Pakistan at the Pacific Asia Museum, USA, where her landscapes paintings were considered on Par with Georgia O’Keefe.

In Karachi, Laila became very interested in ‘Truck Art’. She organised the first Truck Art Workshop in Karachi and in 1985 organised a well received Truck Art exhibition. Though many of the local people were not sure how they felt about this, the work was well received and purchased by the foreign community in the city.

The acclaimed artist and educationist, Rabia Zuberi, had the distinction of being the first woman sculptor in the country. The subject of her work has always been acclaimed in exhibitions mounted throughout Pakistan and abroad. She is the recipient of numerous honours and awards including the President’s Pride of Performance.

As an educationist, Rabia and her sister Hajra, with Mansur Rahi, had the distinction of setting up the first diploma awarding art school in the city, the Karachi School of Art that opened in 1966, and was named by Professor Shakir Ali.

Rabia Zuberi mounted her first exhibition in Karachi in 1969, and fifty sculpted artworks were shown at the PACC. It was a celebratory occasion with interest and appreciation shown by the media.

Construction for the present Karachi School of Art In Gulshan-i-Iqbal began in 1977, and the school has a substantial record of educating important artists of the country.

Looking back through the years, one may venture with pride to claim a history of individuals to be proud of. •