The miniature of Naqsh

October 25, 2020

Darbar-i-Jiddat at Art Citi Gallery pays homage to artist Jamil Naqsh

The recent demise of Jamil Naqsh has left a void in the Pakistani art scene.

Born in 1939, he had started his journey as an artist at the Mayo School of Arts, where he came to know Ustad Haji Sharif, considered founder of Pakistani miniature. Naqsh soon realised his strengths, and left the school for an apprenticeship with Sharif to learn the technique of Mughal miniature painting.

This was also the time when modern art was gaining popular acceptance in Pakistan. Album painting and non-objective art are often considered diagonal opposites but Jamil Naqsh borrowed the best of both to create his own aesthetic vocabulary.

To venerate the contribution of a prolific painter, Art Citi Gallery held a show on September 24, curated by Akbar Ali, as a tribute to Jamil Naqsh by Ustad Haji Sharif’s family.

The show titled Darbar-i-Jiddat is a ride down the memory lane. The curator explained the title in these words: “We have taken different elements from Jamil Naqsh’s paintings like text, lines, forms and technique. We did not want to copy the artist’s work. We wanted to celebrate his style and techniques in our own way.”

The show spoke of the participating artists’ skills and understating of the miniature technique as well as how closely they have observed Naqsh’s work.

The purpose of the show was to pay a tribute to Jamil Naqsh and Ustad Haji Sharif who preserved the art of miniature painting at a time when it was fading away. Haji Sharif set up the miniature department at Mayo School (later NCA). Sharif is reported to have appreciated Naqsh’s work and said: “No one can do miniature as Naqsh does.”

One can find traces of Pablo Picasso in Jamil Naqsh’s work. He never missed an opportunity to pay homage to Picasso.

The panelists Shammi Ahmed, Tanweer Farooqi, Adil Salahuddin, Abdul Jabbar Gul, Chitra Pretam, Shiblee Munir, Arif Khokhar, Saif Khan and Noreen Rashid shared their memories of Jamil Naqsh remembering him as a mentor, teacher, relative, friend and guardian. They also spoke about various phases of Naqsh’s life and about his association with Haji Sharif. Naqsh paid homage by signing his paintings as ‘Shagird Ustad Sharif’.

Each of the miniature paintings in the show was about some aspect of the society.

Shiblee Muneer and SM Mansoor have inherited the love for miniature from their family. Muneer’s work is centred on traditional miniature but includes new techniques like computer graphics. He has taken the text techniques from Naqsh’s work and incorporated those in his work. Digitally manipulated images and addition of the text complemented his contemporary miniature.

From a distance, one of Muneer’s paintings looks like a deep black hole around which gold is scattered. As one goes closer one realises that these are closely written Arabic inscriptions. In some of these like Banana in History I and II, he has deliberately overlapped images to create a layering effect.

Mansoor has a different eye for traditional miniature. His work surrounds the current situation. It reflects development and experimentation since his older series. He has integrated different objects that describe the order and chaos in the society. Together the geometric shapes, text, numbers, animals and other objects create a mood.

Akbar Ali, the curator of the show, has brought together extreme eastern and western philosophies of art. He has a signature style and the viewers are expected to absorb the feel of losing a cultural heritage which is being quickly replaced by Western culture.

One can clearly see his effort to modernise his miniature practice from his work titled Dayar-i-Hind in which five Mughal ministers are looking in an undefined direction; to their right and to the left are two women sitting wearing modern clothes and jewelry and eating fast-food. The first man in the row is holding the hand of the woman sitting on the left whose face is unclear.

Attempts to revive miniature paintings in a conventional style invoke a nostalgic link to the region’s royal past.

Noreen Rashid utilised the platform very-well and cherished the charm and beauty of the Mughal era embellishing her images with jewels, colours and minute detailing. She incorporated the Mughal figures with the current trends. The paintings titled, Consumerist culture I and II, depicted a delicate and fragile Mughal female carrying a bundle of books. On closer scrutiny, those books turned out to be shopping bags. Rashid’s figures are formulaic yet she has brilliantly infused her imagination with her work.

Naqsh’s images were thought-provoking and frequently open to multiple interpretations. The exhibiting artists have used vibrant hues and broken forms and lines so that one has to have a sharp eye to understand and distinguish the message.

The writer is a freelance journalist based in Karachi

The miniature of Naqsh