Abdur Rehman Chughtai [1899-1975]

Born in Lahore in 1899 in a family of artists and architects, Abdur Rehman Chughtai was a self-taught artist. He painted his first colour paintings in 1919 and, rose to international fame in 1928 with the publication of his book "Muraqqa-e-Chughtai" an illustrated rendition of Mirza Ghalib’s Poetry.

Chughtai paid a two-year visit to London in 1932 along with the poet-philosopher Allama Muhammad Iqbal. His paintings on Allama’s verse completed in 25 years were published in 1968.

He also taught at the Mayo School of Arts, Lahore for a decade. He was conferred the title of Khan Bahadur by the British Government in 1940 and Hilal-e-Imtiaz in 1960 by the Government of Pakistan. He was later awarded President’s Medal for "Pride of Performance".

Chughtai devoted last part of his life to the colour paintings of the verses of Omar Khayyam. Chughtai breathed his last on January 17, 1975 at Lahore at the age of 76 years.

His Works

With the passing away of A. R. Chughtai, an epoch has ended. He was the master representative of the classical romantic tradition in painting, whose inspirational roots were firmly grounded in our cultural history.

During his lifetime, his virile brush had attracted a group of young disciples about him and there was, for a time, talks of a Chughtai School of painting being born. But none of them apparently acquired his individual magic touch or approached near enough to the lonesome heights of his artistic sensibility to carry forward his mission of synthesizing beauty and power, which Chughtai had imbibed from the poet-philosopher, Allama Iqbal.

With the modern trend towards greater and greater abstraction in Art, mostly mimetic of Western styles, Chughtai seems destined to appear in our aesthetic annals as a solitary colossus striding across the field of our graphic arts.

His genius had flowered early. He emerged as a phenomenon in the Indian subcontinent long before the partition and was hailed as a new star in the artistic firmament, whose refulgence gained instant recognition from connoisseurs, both Eastern and Western. In 1928, when he was only 29, he brought out his "Muraqqa-i-Chughtai", an exquisitely illustrated edition of Ghalib’s Urdu Diwan.

Allama Muhammad Iqbal contributed a foreword to the publication in which he described the Muraqqa as "a unique enterprise in modern Indian painting and printing". Iqbal also recorded his belief there-in that with the single exception of Architecture, the Art of Islam is yet to be born-"the art, that is to say, which aims at the human assimilation of Divine attributes (Tukhlaqu Ba Khalaqullah) gives man infinite aspiration (Ajrun Ghair Mamnun) and finally wins for him the status of "God’s representative on earth". Iqbal found in the Muraqqa "indications to show that the young artist of the Punjab is already on the way to feel his responsibility as an artist".

Dr. James H. Cousins, in his introduction to the work, made the acute observation that "the remoteness from so-called realism which Chughtai has deliberately cultivated, will be specially acceptable to those who are now feeling the pull away from an alleged truthfulness to eye sight towards the truth of the imagination".

About Chughtai’s achievement he remarked that "he retains the distinctive mood and posture of the Persian tradition but gives his pictures a special quality of his own, in lovely colour combination, in delicious lines that seem to be less lines of painting than of some inaudible poetry made visible". The folds of drapery appearing in Chughtai’s creations, were characterised by him as a "liturgy of beauty" and his decorative backgrounds based on Saracenic architecture as "calling the imagination away from the tyranny of the actual into free citizenship of the realm of romance.

In his Urdu preface to this work, Chughtai declared that "by its publication he aimed at embodying the soul of Asian civilisation and culture, of which added thereto occurs significant observation that a painting is not a mere representation of the visible phenomena but an interpretation of the painter’s own mind".

It provides a clue to the motifs of Chughtai’s Art. His own personality, enriched with the heritage of Islamic, Iranian and Mughal traditions, finds expression in his individualistic original style. It imports neither a faithful reproduction of nature nor is it imitative of any Western School of Art.

The values of his faith were dear to Chughtai and their spirit is reflected in his chaste passion and artistic restraint in his creative ventures. His orientalism was his pride and his inspiration was in tune with the infinite. He was not merely wrapped up in the past but conjured up past glories to light up the road to the future.

The Muraqqa had a sequel in "Naqsh-i-Chughtai" which includes an additional set of beautiful illustrations of Ghalib’s thought.

As behoved his universalistic Islamic soul, he appreciated manifestations of charm, vitality and dynamism wherever he found them. A collection of his "Indian Paintings" published from Delhi in 1951, relates to the early period of this creative life. In this delightful publication, the Indian motifs that appealed to his sensibility partake of the hue of his ruling passion for beauty and power.

It was in December 1949 that the Pakistan Arts Council, Lahore had given financial aid for this venture to the tune of Rs. 50,000 through the Board for Advancement of Literature, Lahore. This was repaid by the artist in the shape of an adequate number of copies of the work, supplied to the Government. The title of Khan Bahadur was conferred on Chughtai by the British Government in pre-partition times. The Pakistan Government had honoured him with a Hilal-i-Imtiaz.

Chughtai belongs to that band of immortals whose work will endure long after the fashion of hybrid imitative art, popular today with our younger generation, will have passed away. Chughtai was a prolific painter and his creative image gave him little rest right till the end of his life.

His principal medium was water colours in which his work is unsurpassed. He also executed a considerable number of superb etchings, with immaculate skill. If his paintings display an architectonic quality, it is not surprising. That perhaps is a reflex of his ancestral heritage. For, as he himself told, his great grand-father, Baba Saleh, was an architect and his lineage includes the builder of the Taj, the Red Fort and the Badshahi Mosque.

Beside the products of his own creative genius, Chughtai has left behind a unique collection of classical calligraphic inscriptions and a most valuable assemblage of paintings by Eastern and Western masters which could be the pride of a distinctive Art Gallery.


Pakistan Digest, Karachi, March – April 1975 (also cited in Dawn, Karachi).

Gulgee (Abdul Mohammad)

Pakistan’s most celebrated artist, whose original name is Abdul Mohammad, is a man of many talents. He is a craftsman, sculptor and painter. He is a builder of dams, a scientist, trained as an engineer. He is as close to the Renaissance ideal of the complete artist as exists in our times. He is Gulgee.

His startling strokes of calligraphic expression outpace the dynamism of his swiftly executed sketches. His sketches are full of sheer movement, a sensibility which comes perhaps from his days as a photographer. According to Eric Gibson of Art News, New York. "Gulgee’s work is an example of the continuing dialogue between Eastern and Western artistic traditions. The artist is attempting to fuse two traditions: Islamic calligraphy, in which writing both carries a religious text and decorates a page, and the Western style of Abstract Expressionism, with its movement brushstrokes."

Commenting on his work Annemarie Schimmel says, "Guljee is no doubt the finest artist in Pakistan, able to capture the finest movement of soul and body in his drawings, highly inventive in his calligraphic paintings, and incredibly skilful in his compositions made of Lapis Lazuli." Guljee’s passion is his art, his passion for making works of art shines through his formal portraits of world celebrities and almost overwhelms the subject.

Following are the excerpts of his exclusive interview to the daily Nation, Lahore.

About his work getting better as he gets older:

My work is getting better as I grow older. That is how the world feels about it too. But surprisingly my work is more satisfying and even the critics love my love and write beautifully about it, but the man in the street the poor people they respond to it as the ordinary people see with the eye of the heart and they love my work. I get so much affection from them.

What else do you want to achieve?

I have achieved a lot of perfection. The way my work is proceeding and I can see one of my projects is doing really good with the name of God. Mine is the Sufi mystic way of writing, for that I have done 70-80 paintings. Now my paintings have acquired a greater taste, may be I will have to do another 100 to get what I want. I have always enjoyed what ever I have done.

About what the Muslim world is going through:

The sad thing is that the Muslim world is going through a very bad period. They have been totally brainwashed. The west has taken away from the Muslims, their glory, heritage, cultural places, precious to us and a lot of other things have been taken away. What is more important is the avalanche of propaganda that we get from the West they have robbed us of our pride as Muslims. As an artist I feel a lot of pain.

The Muslim art all around the world:

With all the money God has given the Muslim world they have not even made one centre in London, Rome or Paris, where the work of the Muslim artists can be shown with the respect it deserves. If they do not do it then who is going to do it?

If you do imitate their work nobody is bothered, but if your work has its own wilderness in the western world. I was giving a lecture in the museum about 5 years ago and the best of the best were there and I showed them about a hundred slides of my work. I was told that our artists went to Japan and after three weeks of staying there their work sold for 30 to 35 Million dollars. The best work is in the third world but you never hear about it because there is a war going on all over the world but what is done in this part of the world is not permitted to go on and there is no recognition, no opportunities, no exhibitions in good museums. People buy the fourth rater’s work and feel very proud ke goron ka kaam laga hay.

About the western media:

Muslims have control over the media, its an avalanche. They do not have confidence, I myself am a product of western education. Do not misunderstand me, I am not anti West. Learn whatever possibly you can learn. You must learn, you can not ignore it but you have to have confidence in yourself, which is good for us.

About his mural at Allama Iqbal Airport Lahore:

I always get help from God. I was thinking of making it since 3 years, but then I made it in 3 weeks. When I went to Cordoba, I had planned a thing which was 35 feet by 10 feet. They had a lot of room but not in their hearts.

When Allama Iqbal went to Cardoba he wrote a very beautiful poem which said, "every thing perishes in life but work by artists of passion." I love this phrase in the centre khudi ko kar buland itna". Sabak phir parh shujat ka... Liya jai ga kamm tum se dunyia ki imamat ka, and all that I have done in eastern work.

How can we survive?

We are artists. We can only hope from the new generation. Children are last hope unless they are aware of what is going on how will they work on improving the situation around us. You people are young generation please do something to save art.

About Gulgee’s background and his family

My daughter is married and lives in Los Angeles. She has two children. I act like a nine year old and they think I am like them. I become a child with them. You know my son Amin Gulgee. My wife Zaro has always been my source of inspiration and my strength.

My mother was from Hazro a place near Attock and my father was from Attock itself. I was born in Peshawar and my schooling is from Peshawar Convent.

My father was an executive engineer in the Frontier. I planned to be a painter and my father was planning to send me to the art school in Paris. My father was an orator, he could make a hundred people laugh or cry so the political agents got angry at him. But my father said, "this is my own private time, I will do whatever I want to and the political agents threw him out of his service and made sure that years afterwards he could not find a chaprasi’s job.

When I was 10 years old my teacher said, "Abdul Muhammad, (my name before I started painting) you are a very intelligent and talented child. You do not require any more tutoring". After my father lost his job I left my studies. We had no money to eat. We were honest and God fearing people. My father told me I had two options, if I want to study then it is only possible through scholarships and if I want to get scholarships then it must be in professional subject like Engineering. So I took mathematics. I got a scholarship to Ghoragali, Murree. I did my BSc Engineering with honours when I was only 19 years old in first class first so then I got a 3 year scholarship to the US, Columbia Howard, and then I came back.

His Initial Career:

I was doing painting all the time, so when King Zahir Shah came to Pakistan in 1967, Sikandar Mirza asked me to do his portrait which is one of its kind. I told him I will make it but there is one problem. I know it is important for us, but when I start painting I have no control. The reaction I get with the sitters is what I paint. So get it made by the society painters, they have ways of making things beautiful like a plastic surgeon.

So I did his portrait. He was so happy with it that he invited me over to Kabul where I was treated like a royalty. I have been very lucky all my life. The women of Kabul saw my exhibition and were very impressed. One of my favourite things that is a waistcoat was given to me by princess Mariam daughter of the King of Afghanistan. I still have it.

On his belief and faith:

There is one thing that I have learnt, that if a person is not greedy then all the ways and avenues are open for him. This is a very minor thing but it has been true in my case all the time. God creates avenues for his mankind. I feel Allah himself is in your hands, if you love him truly.

About his work:

My work is the externalisation of my inner journey. Through it I communicate with the pulse of life. The Calligraphic form and movement that emerges is not predetermined or cerebral, it is intuitive and articulates something deep inside me.

It is important that no thought of how people will react to my work intrudes, as that would destroy the thread and take the truth away.

I am enchanted by Islamic calligraphy and feel close to the Sufis mystics. At the mystic level barriers melt away and religious experience whether Buddhist, Hindu or Muslim becomes one.

One could call it human experience of the ineffable. For me the medium of the unknown is space and the calligraphic choreography of my paintings is the dance of the dervish. To me the act of paintings is the making real of the essential and Yogic experience of life as pure movement. I find it difficult to speak about my paintings because the act of putting together words only explain and cannot make real the experience, which for me, is the only reality, the only value that gives meaning to my life. I live only when I paint. The rest is but a wait, a preparation mixed with prayer for crossing the threshold-form life into the experience of life.

About his Studio:

In my studio there are portraits of Agha Khan’s grandfather in Lapis Lazuli and some of his own too. If I give one of these to the families they will present me with a house in return as they are so generous. As much as I love them, I believe should stay in Pakistan.

About his work in stone:

I have lots and lots of Lapis Lazuli cut and polished, I have sketches and I mark each and every stone with a line whereas the gemstone cutter cuts them later on. I fit them together. If they do not set together I change the stones because I am a perfectionist.

On his achievement, success and what next:

I see myself essentially in relation to my work, how a person feels. Success is a matter of chance and not that important for myself. Every artist knows inside how he stands where he is going. Look at Van Gogh, he couldn’t sell a thing in his whole life and yet he pursued what he was after. I see my work and am very happy with them. I have always had a spark. I followed it and its leading me to a very beautiful field.


Courtesy: The Nation Lahore, (Review, June 22, 2003) (Editing Ours)

Shakir Ali [1914-1975]

His Contribution To Art

"An introvert by nature, Professor Shakir Ali roamed about from place to place in search of his metier" and finally in 1937 for the first time settled down to paint in Sarda Ukil’s studio at Delhi, where the influence and style of Rabindranath Tagore was practiced with great vigour and sentimentality.

He later moved over to Bombay, where he was introduced to "IMPRESSIONISM" at Sir J. J. School of Art, whose principal, Mr. Charles Gerard, had established himself as a leading exponent of modern art. By 1943 he had come in contact during his post-graduate studies in mutual decoration with Ajanta paintings. These paintings, and those of the Rajput, Kangra, and Jain schools of paintings had a lasting influence on his style and works.

While Shakir Ali experimented with new techniques along with modern artists like Jamini Roy and Amrita Sher Gill he looked back to tradition for its richness. During those days Chughtai and Ustad Allah Bakhsh were striving hard under the influence of Raja Rais Varma to promote what is termed as "Classical painting." Thus he gradually took over as a pioneer in the promotions of contemporary art in the sub-continent.

In 1946 Shakir Ali left for Europe which immediately after the war was bursting with new vigour and ideas. After attending an international youth festival in Prague, he turned up in London with new ideas, an empty pocket and a wife. In London he entered the famous Slade School of Art, University of London, from where he learned the immutable canons of classical art.

In 1948 he traveled across France and in Paris painted under the guidance of Andre Lhote, the avant garde of the "cubist movement." In 1949 he left for Czechoslovakia, where he spent three years at the School of Industrial Design in the famous Charles University of Prague, trying his hand at textile designing. For some time he worked in the Czech Textile Corporation and in 1951 returned to London and worked as a designer for a British textile firm.

Shakir Ali returned from Europe in 1951 and started work in Karachi. The city did not, it is allegedly said in the art circle, suit his sensitive temperament and in 1952 he moved to Lahore and joined Mayo School of Arts, which later was named as the National College of Arts. In 1961 he was appointed its Principal, a post he retired from in March, 1974.

The last ten years of his life he devoted to building his house which he always considered as just another canvas. He completed his house in early 1974 with the help of some of the best architects of Pakistan. The result of the efforts was a unique building, the only one of its type in the country. His students now think of turning it into a Shakir Ali Memorial Museum, an institution, they hope, will be starting ground of the modern art movement in Pakistan. “If one museum is made on the works of Chughtai, an idea Shakir Ali mentioned to a close friend, Pakistan will have two solid bases to develop schools of art no other country in the entire region can be fortunate enough to have. Shakir Ali was born at Rampur, U. P. India in 1914 and he breathed his last on January 27, 1975 at Lahore.

"Shakir Ali was not merely a man who painted pictures in a certain new mode; he was also making it possible through his struggle to create the environment in which others could have that freedom".


Pakistan Digest, Karachi, March – April 1975 (also cited in Dawn, Karachi).

Saeed Akhtar

Saeed Akhtar is best known as an academic portrait painter. His portraits of national personalities include a massive portrait of Quaid-e-Azam, Mohammad Ali Jinnah for the National Assembly and a set of sensitive pencil portraits of national heroes, portraits of military martyrs and Heads of States of Muslim countries. His elegant portraits of social personalities are well known. He works mostly in monochromatic tones, both in portraiture and in his paintings of heroes in vast landscapes. At present he is the Head of Fine Arts at the National College of Arts Lahore.

On the creative process

"The idea comes suddenly in my mind, I make sketches after the first idea, I rearrange sketches and keep on adding and subtracting forms. Every painting creates problem for the next painting. In every painting there is an accident which leads to the new painting, these accidents which just happen are part of creative process. You can not force the work, the canvas has a mind of it’s own you cannot control a painting".

On painting

"I use canvas as part of the painting, if you want to use white paint and the canvas is white then there is no need to use white paint at all. I use minimum colours for maximum effect, people use a lot of colour to produce three dimensionality, while I give the three dimensional impact through drawings.

I don’t take very long on a painting and every time I use a different method. It is a difficult thing to decide when a painting is finished. My paintings have an unfinished sketchy effect. It is better than a complete, finished painting".

Quddus Mirza

Quddus Mirza is one of the most challenging painters of 90’s. After graduation from National College of Arts, Lahore, he went on to the Royal College of Art, London. His work is a critique of painting, the images are deconstructed and subjected to their own internal logic. A witty irony challenges our expectations as we set aside our initial response of seeing a painting and instead find ourselves reading it. Deliberately two-dimensional, he uses the concept of space as practiced by Indian Miniaturist in a faux-naif style, the gestural marking of the surface often incorporates writing. Pahari painting, magic realist literature, contemporary Urdu Poetry and everyday incidents occupy the same creative space in an existential reading of the absurdity of life. Quddus Mirza teaches art at the National College of Arts.

On my Work

"My work deals with the images I find in my surroundings. The forms which appear on walls, on the back of vehicles and on billboards are our tradition. I try to infuse with a political meaning. The imaginary is not realistic on just one level but encompasses multiple reality which includes the magical, religious, literal and parallel realities.

The act of painting is very significant for me, especially the mark making. The open form of the completed work fascinates me. I take delight in the sensuous quality of pain and its application. I am trying to see space in the context of Indian Miniature which is not an illusion of western two points perspective, but a reality of a cognitive kind".

Hayat Ahmed Khan

Hayat Ahmed Khan, the founder and secretary-general of the All Pakistan Music Conference, died here in Ferozepur Road hospital early on Sunday. He was 84.

Mr Khan was taken to the Masood Hospital when he fainted on the noon of Feb 1. His condition slightly improved after a dialysis in the night.

He was shifted to the intensive care unit (ICU) the next day because of renal failure and pneumonia. His condition deteriorated on Saturday night and he breathed his last around 4am on Sunday.

Born in 1921 in Lahore, Mr Khan did his graduation form the Punjab University. Later, he studied tabla and sur at the Gandharav Mahavidvala Academy and did his master’s in music from there.

He is survived by four daughter and grandchildren. Mr khan was a sportsman in his youth and during his stay at the PU he won the 100-meter event in the Punjab swimming championship. He was an extensive traveler and had toured around the globe.

He was awarded the Sitara-I-Imtiaz in 2000 for his contribution towards classical music.

He was the chief examiner (music) of the Punjab University, a member of the National commission on History and Culture since 1994, and the president of the Japan Karate Association of Pakistan since 1970.

He was a member of the board of governors of the Alhamra Art Council, Lahore, and the Lok Virsa, Islamabad. He was elected president of the Pakistan Japan Cultural Association in 1981 and had been promoting cultural ties between the two countries since then.

An avid classical music lover, Mr khan founded the APMC in 1959 and had been attracting a galaxy of classical vocalists and musicians since then at the annual event on schedule against all the odds.

The artistes who performed at Mr khan’s APMC included Roshan Ara Begum, Farida Khanam and Iqbal Begum. Those who blossomed after performing at the APMC included Ghulam Ali, Nayyara Noor, Ashraf Sharif Khan, Faheem Mazhar, Sara Zaman, Shaukat Ali and Rustam Fateh Ali Khan.

Mr khan revived the teaching of music at some of the premier educational institutions of Lahore like the Kinnaird College, the Lahore College for Women, the Government College for Women, Gulberg, besides the Alhamra Music Academy.

He was laid to rest in Miani Sahib graveyard in the evening.


Dawn, 07, 2005