Usually, the month of February is celebrated as the commencement of spring season. Therefore, Jashn-i Baharan (Spring Festival), with all its sound, smell and color, keeps hold of the freezing and icy evenings and put in the warmth of passionate attitudes that ultimately lead to the activities full of jubilation and joyfulness including the imported Valentine's Day craze. The land we live in has been famous for such activities for centuries, as the fertility has always enriched, first the soil and then its sons; an inevitable feature of the inhabitants that Indus Valley has cradled.
Every winter in Punjab, due to the intensity of weather, people are forced to spend most of their time behind closed doors, while recalling the tenderness of the days, bygone!
This winter, mercury has been diving down to the negative side of the scale on more regular basis then ever before, to create a new record for the minimum temperature in town.
So, right from the start of the New Year, blessed ones were in "chill" while the deprived...in severe cold, to nobody's surprise.
"Chill" was also the mood of the whole exhibition, the 22nd National Show, held on 12th day of February at Al-hamra under the banner of Artists' Association of the Punjab (AAP).
AAP, for the last two decades, has contributed a lot towards the collective evolution of art in Pakistan with special reference to Punjab. Painters, sculptors and graphic designers from every part of the country have always felt proud to participate in this grand show which, at a national level, has now also become a sign of integrity. This thought has helped many young artists to evolve and accelerate themselves in terms of skill and conception as they are given the opportunity to display their work of art along with the major players. The large number of participants actually forced the AAP selection committee to allow only two pieces of art by an artist for the final display. The hard scrutiny and the solid standards of selection criteria have actually made many to grow, from ordinary artisans to the maestros, for the reason that since 22 years, the grand event has been very well planed, well organized and well displayed an exhibition that no other show of this scale could emerge.
But not this time, regretfully!
The frozen atmosphere that had actually kept the whole city in catnap for the last couple of months, seemed ascend from downstairs to upstairs along and with the 'iron railings' of the Al-hamra Art Galleries.
Although, scorching satire of Iqbal Hussain's themes was hanging right at the start of the stair-case, the frame by Maliha Azmi was all but to set on fire every thing with the pure colors of her palette, and the restful application of yellow strokes by veteran Zubaida Javaid was displaying as cozy a panorama as wheat-field could express in March, flamboyant as canvas of Vincent Van Gogh.
But...the show could not get fire!
Upstairs, there was an array of frames in different mediums, several of which had actually adorned many other well lit walls, from Nairang Gallery to Ejaz Gallery and from Zahoor al-Akhlaq Gallery to Hamail Gallery of Lahore. The feeling of déjà vu was whispering behind numerous frames that, to my utmost shock, the selection committee could not listen to!
The perception of gallery-goers might have been tickled, after being stirred by "visual exploitation" they were viciously exposed to, within the plastered walls of the gallery or through out the nicely printed catalogue.
This show also lacked one of its most important features; the sculpture. There were only few relief works, by Jamil Baloch and by Dr Khaleeq al- Rehman. Three-dimensional sculpture was a rarity in the exhibition, probably for a change?
Normally, all the three portions of Al-hamra Galleries were found engaged in displaying the quality work by numerous artists, but this time, though the number of artists was 108, there were only two portions that could get filled with third one left empty and haunted.
In Pakistan, due to many reasons, calligraphic painting has mad its firm place in terms of general acceptance as well as in terms of marketing. Many artists, after seeing mysterious Sadequain and successful Gulgee galloping upwards in the art chess, started to follow suit. Calligraphic Painting, no doubt, has become an independent genre in any sense of the word and many possibilities are still there to be explored. This genre has got a proper place in painting exhibitions, but at the same time, pure calligraphy, on the other hand, has also developed on its own level, which is a different kind of art from Calligraphic Painting. Moreover, under the flag of Calligraphy Guild, numerous shows have been organized where no painter, other than calligraphic-painter, is entertained. The display of pure calligraphic frames does create few questions in terms of categorizing the Calligraphy and Calligraphic-Painting.
A portrait, digitally carried out and simply divided in cubes, made many to ask the 'contributing factor' of art for what the artist had always been responsible!
Absence of many key figures, like Mian Ajaz al-Hasan and Sardar Assef Ahmed Ali at the opening ceremony, was also felt deeply, who owing to the hyped political activities, could not get time. While many important members of the selection and media committee were also found in the list of missing persons.
Non-availability of these gurus of art, ultimately resulted in abandoning of the seminar, the connected activity to the annual show for which many wait for an year to discuss art related problems and issues.
As the Chairman AAP in the forward of the catalogue said,
"One purpose of upholding the tradition of seminars has been to intelligently and rationally understand our art and cultural traditions and draw from them whatever is individually and collectively relevant to us today."
Alas, there was no seminar!
Pakistan is a land with diversity in moods and attitudes, the artists of Pakistan are very well skilled in depicting this diversity, as the variety within their palette is capable of such enthusiastic venture.
Along with the dim, the bright side of the picture was also interesting in connection with the 22 National Show. Many trends seemed getting changed as Rahat Naveed Masood came to this show with altogether a different painting that we could expect from her. Contrary to her soft portraits or a lavish landscape, she put on display a completely abstract frame with a touch of mystic thoughts. Zara David with the fairyland ambiance stretched a canvass in blue that was like the world could have been, before the discovery of fire. Few husband-wife couples of artists gave the impression of painting while using each other's palette, and brush!
This show has aroused a hope that next year, things will be different!