Jamal Shah is a man with a lot of thoughts and very little words for his own thought. He is inspiring because his quest in creative activity involves a sincere struggle for serious introspection. His versatility in the creative field can put even the largest art maestro to shame. There is very little ego and a lot of serious urge to find ones self with all its downfall and shameful self realizations. Jamal Shah is a painter, sculptor, printmaker, a writer, a philanthropist and an actor. He takes his life in his stride whithout illusions of grandeur but his entire personality emits an aura of relentless melancholia. Extraordinary success and an exposure to extreme cultural clash and the fear of unknown future humbled him. He doesn't gloat because he fears life and that is the reason why he fears life with the failures and successes of life itself.
Jamal Shah was born in 1956 in Peshawar and did his Masters in English literature from The University of Baluchistan and then went to the National College of Arts. He later did his Masters in Fine Arts from the Slade School of Arts.
Jamal Shah talks about his diverse accomplishments in a very admirably self speculative mode rather then a gloating celebration of his fame and success. He talks about different aspects of his life journey. “I never considered myself to be an actor, I was a very shy person. Basically I felt I was a singer but that didn't seem to work out for me. A couple of years later I was persuaded to work in a drama Naqsh-e-Sung directed by the famous director Asim Jalal. This drama series was more of a travelogue from Karachi to Iran. It was serious play on cultural diversity. Another play that was a kick start for me was “Traffic”. This drama series was on drug trafficking. It was a star studded high profile role and they had auditioned 300 people for the role that was given to me finally. My role was that of a protagonist who grew poppy for the trade. This play won 11 awards through out the world.”
He adds “ Through acting I discovered nooks and corners of my personality. It was an introspective journey. From there I was given a role in a hollywood movie called K2. Performing arts for me was to play relevant aspects of society in fun manner.”
Jamal Shah is a prolific sculptor and although he has designed what I would define as ceremonial and monumental public sculptures but he very humbly calls them projects to raise funds for the school of which he is a director. Hunerkada is an art school for young people and has its branches in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi. He established Hunerkada in 1997. Lal-e- Mehran in Sukkur, Global monument for PTC at the constellation avenue, mural at the new airport of Lahore visitors lounge are some of the salient monumental sculptures he has constructed.
Hunerkada is known for its informal open door policy for its students. The atmosphere is candid and allows the students to learn all about art in a fun and at the same time accepting environment.
In reference to his art Jamal Shah maintains “My work has always been about universal human struggle. Be it critical or political. Sculpture for me is not just a monument it has a lot of meaning for me. My work took another dimension and I lost the motive to exhibit. I was more concerned with the function of art rather then using it as a commercial or egotistical purposes.
This motivated me to start an artist camp. People from all fields of arts such as film makers, writers, singers, dancer and artists etc participated and my motive for this artist camp was to end violence. In the camp everybody participated and talked about elements and aspects of violence and foremother conversations led to other arena of life. Then the artists used these conversations as muse to work on their individual art pieces. I wanted to channelize the youth and eventual become decision makers of the country.
Jamal Shah talks about the cultural differences he encountered especially in his educational years. He talks about his experience “I spent all my life in Balochistan and my family encouraged art as a leisurely activity but after matric I voiced my desire to get admitted into NCA. I encountered opposition but when I was admitted to the institution I realized it was the ideal environment for me. Then getting admitted to Slade Arts School was a major flight for me. When I came back I realized I want to open an institution for arts.
All my monumental commissions were executed to raise funds for the school. I have devoted a lot of time and effort for the establishment of Hunerkada.
Jamal Shahs paintings are very fauvist and raw. Especially his most recent work. The strong and bold juxtaposition of colors and sharp unabashed execution of anatomy is similar to what the German expressionist were executing post world war. The paintings are conceptually dark and morbid and add to the intriguing , freud like sexuality and ultimately a nightmarish conceptual quality to his work. A lot of Jamal Shah’s sculptures are more in repose and have a smooth quiet calm to them.
Jamal Shah maintains “Whatever mark one makes whether it is with paint or any other act devoted to creativity links one to their own soil. Art is a celebration of life. In reference to my art sexuality also plays a very vital soul. My themes deal with men, women, gender issues, fears and romance. I respect procreation be it physical, material or spiritual or an artistic act.”
Jamal Shah is currently the Director General of Pakistan National Council of Arts (PNCA). A well deserved position for an inspiring person like himself. He maintains in reference to his roles a director of PNCA “ Pnca promotes our culture and heritage and a positive image of our country. I have a number of plans in my mind to develop it further and with the help of the government we will soon be doing some great things for film , drama, music and all other forms of art in Pakistan.”
Jamal Shah is charismatic because he has come a long way without actually digesting the fact and his silent and sad melancholia adds to his aura of a typical artist in a relentless quest and an unquenchable thirst to discover and rediscover ones self.