The first book to jointly document contemporary art in India and Pakistan will be released on December 1, and its Pakistani co-author Salima Hashmi is excited about its historical implications.
The Lahore-based painter, a professor at Pakistan’s National College of Art and daughter of the late iconic poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz, was invited to share in this Oxford University Press project by Delhi-based art historian Yashodhara Dalmia, when they met at a Singapore art conference in 2004.
The well-produced 226-page hardcover result is another step in cross-border mutuality, says Hashmi.
“Indian painters are well-known to us, but we are not, here. And the highest a dead Pakistani artist like Allak Baksh or Sadiqain sells for is Rs 40 to 50 lakh, while a top living painter like Jamil Naqsh may net Rs 25 to 30 lakh unlike the roaring market for Indian painters.”
Despite a shared heritage of Mughal miniatures, colonial influence and the pre-Partition Bengal School of art, the two countries have had very divergent art histories. “Pakistani art is more ‘beautiful’ and accessible, yet very cutting edge,” says Dalmia.
“From the romanticism of Chughtai’s Omar Khayyams to the strong new work of international best-sellers like Rashid Rana, who sells only in London, the United States of America or in Arab countries, theirs is a more inward journey.”
This contrasts with the bold borrowings from the West by the older generation of Indian painters who termed themselves “Progressive”.
Most noticeable in the book, though, is the role of women painters in both countries. “There was a long gap in India after Amrita Shergil. Only from the 1960s did Indian women painters emerge from the shackles of domesticity,” says Dalmia. “They painted furiously on gender issues, marginalisation, anything that inspired them.”
“Pakistani women painters played a more political role,” says Hashmi, “especially during the 11 years of martial law. Painting was a focused, silent protest against orthodoxy and oppression. We still live on the edge, though.”