Controversial and bold, Iqbal Hussain is one of Pakistan's most talented artists. After graduating from the National College of Arts, Lahore in 1974, Iqbal devoted his time and energy to painting the women of ''Heera Mandi'' (Diamond Market) which is Lahore's red-light area. Iqbal was born and brought up in the red-light area. He has seen first-hand how sex-workers are treated; they are shunned by the devout and oppressed by the rich. Iqbal is realistic enough to realize that he alone cannot change the lives of all those who are part of the flesh trade, but he can bring attention to their stories and the harsh realities of their life. In order to draw attention to their living conditions and lives, the artist has taken it upon himself to paint them and their stories of pain, suffering and helplessness. Although best known for painting prostitutes and dancing girls, Iqbal has not limited himself to painting only these women, but also paints the beautiful landscapes of Punjab.
It is notable that the artist is a realist and an impressionist simultaneously. The women he paints are usually portrayed in bright, garish colours with a solid, single colour being used as the backdrop which makes the female forms pop from the canvas. His landscapes on the other hand are painted in shades of watery blues and pale, powder pinks. The colour palette he uses for the landscapes is calm and soothing, the exact feeling the actual landscape induces in a person. His work gives the viewer the feeling that in his impressionistic styled landscapes, he takes his viewers to a tranquil and serene place where they can escape into their own world. However, his portraits are in complete contrast and forces the viewers to see the harsh realities of life by the bold colours he uses.
The pathos and powerlessness of the women he paints is captured in their expressions. The reality of their lives is immortalized on canvas by Iqbal. The women he paints are often voluptuous and even in their pain and suffering they are sensual. Iqbal attempts to paint these women in their everyday environment, he doesn't like them to pose and sit still, because the forced smile and rigid posture are not true to who they are. He paints without leaving anything out, low necklines, cheap looking outfits, tacky jewelry and provocative poses - which are often unintentional on their part-, are all captured by Iqbal on his canvas.
Girls born in the red light area have no choice other than to join the flesh trade as their dreams and hopes count for little. This is the subject of the several hundred paintings that Iqbal has done, all of which share the plight, anguish and misery that surrounds these women.
In contrast to these, are Iqbal's tranquil landscapes with luminous skies, the flowing rivers, the reflection of the sunset on the river, making the waves shine and shimmer is all part of the backdrop. To punctuate this landscape, there might be crows, a dog sleeping, and trees in the distance, a boat or anything else that may be part of the scene he is painting. Simply put Iqbal tries not to edit out anything from his natural setting. He draws the scene as it is. Each painting, although made up of similar subjects is different, primarily due to the way Iqbal handles light and shadows. The different shades of the sunset, the reflections that they create on the water are all captured by Iqbal on his canvas.