An Exhibition held at the Chowkandi Art was recently curated by Yusaf Agha. He displayed the work of his late wife, Lubna Agha and other women artists of her period, and brought back memories of the vibrant artscene of the Seventies. It was a time when women were beginning to establish their identities as artists in the country, and each one contributed greatly to the exciting art movement taking place at that time. In Karachi ,the artists whose work was displayed were Lubna, Qudsia Nisar, Nahid Raza, Riffat Alvi, Meher Afroze, Rabia Zuberi and Hajra Mansur. The work of each of These 4 artists was extremely individual. It was a time when Karachi was the Capitaland houses and offices were being built in the city, initiating an art market that thrived. When Rabia and Hajra Zuberi established Mina Art School at their residence in Nazimabad in 1963, Lubna Agha, was fourteen years old. She was one of the first students to enroll, attending in the afternoons after the public school hours. In time to come, Nahid Raza followed the same procedure. Mansur Rahi joined the teaching staff and as his pupil, Lubna began painting in a figurative style, with an astute handling of space and colour.
When the Mina Art School became registered as the Karachi School of Art, Lubna became a full time student graduating in 1967. When an exhibition of her work was shown at the Pakistan Cultural Center, and Ali Imam viewed the exhibition and invited Lubna to join the faculty of the Central Institute of Arts and Crafts, Karachi as a lecturer. In 1970, Lubna had the opportunity to visit London and spent one year visiting museums and galleries. In 1971 Lubna mounted her work in exhibition at the Granada Gallery Windsor, before returning to Karachi where she resumed teaching.Lubna exhibited her work at `The Gallery’, run by Mr.Sultan Mahood, where they were soon acquired by collectors. It was there that Ahmed Parvez saw her work for the first time and he was excited by the work. The artist’s unique development of a painting method that involved abstract white on white painted surfaces streaked with colour, were became a strong influences on art in Karachi during the decade of the seventies. Whenever possible Ahmed Parvez bought one of Lubna’s paintings and she went on to show her work at the Karachi Arts Council, in a three artist show with Ahmad Parvez and Aftab Ahmed Khan. It was an exhibition with a tremendous impact on the artscene at that time.
Among the admirers of Lubna’s work, was a young art writer Yusaf Agha, who had obtained his M.A. degree in History. Yusaf followed her career with interest and reviewed her work for the press. Friends introduced them and in 1981 the young couple married. They moved to America for futher study where Lubna made a successful career. Settled into the USA with two children, Lubna retained her links with Pakistan.She participated in several international group shows from Pakistan, and held several acclaimed solo exhibitions in Pakistan and in America.
Nahid Raza spent a very happy year at the Mina Art School before obeying her parents wishes and joining the Karachi University where she earned a B.A. At the same time she attended classes at the Central Institute of Arts and Crafts, Arts Council, where, at that time, her uncle Ali Imam was Principal. Nahid flourished at the CIAC. In 1969 she won the ‘Best Entry’ award at the Karachi Arts Council Annual Group Exhibition; it was to be the first of many awards she has received through the years. It came at a time when her father had just taken over the magazine ‘Artistic Pakistan’ from Bashir Mirza, and art was very much a living reality in the Raza household. Nahid related that she and Lubna would often meet at the Arts Council Café and discuss art over cups of tea.
Nahid greatly admired Laila Shahzada, an artist who was very much in the limelight. Nahid also speaks with admiration of the work of Rumana Saeed and Sughra Rababi at that time, but Laila remained her favourite. Nahid was the first `Feminist’ artist, who expressed her views on women’s position in society on numerous occasions. Throught the years she raised a family, exhibited her work at home ande abroad and travelled; spending time in Germany and studying printmaking in the USA. Returning to Karachi, Nahid opened an art teaching centre and finally went on to become Principal of the CIAC. She continued to paint her views on life and was awarded the President’s Pride of Profession. Studying her work through the decades, one discovers a documentation of the artist’s life. Painting only deeply felt convictions; Nahid Raza captured their essence on surfaces renewing the sense of the subject constantly.
Riffat Alvi graduated from the Karachi School of Art in 1974, and participated in group shows in Karachi. In 1082, she took up the post of handicraft designer for Sindh Small Industries, under the auspices of the UN. There she worked with a team of international design advisers. She held her first solo exhibition in `85, and then travelled to the USA to study design orientation. Visiting art centres in Zimbabwe in 1991, Riffat discovered an earth pigment technique which created great interest internationally. In a layered, contemporary style she created a series of paintings titled:Mohenjodaro, using the earth from the site as medium. Riffat has shown her work in Pakistan and overseas, including a solo exhibition of work evolved into a complex synthesis of ground earth, resins, oils and binders, mounted at the Commonwealth Institute, UK. As the Director of the VM Gallery Karachi, a post she has maintained for three decades, she has contributed to the art scene of Karachi arranging and curating local and international art events on a regular basis.
Rabia Zuberi is Pakistan’s foremost woman sculptor and the recipient of numerous awards, an artist who has dedicated her life to her work and to art education. The Karachi School of Art that opened in 1965, produced successive generations of artists.After graduating from the Lucknow College of Art in 1963, Rabia with her sister Hajra settled with her family in Karachi. The girls were disappointed to discover the only source of art education were casual classes, and Rabia and Hajra set up the Meena Art Academy as a forerunner to the Karachi School of Art and enlisted Mansur Rahi’s aid.Throughout the `70’s, Rabia worked on her sculptural art, simplifying the human formThat gave reference to abstraction. Rabia’s work in the field of sculpture was acknowledged by way of national awards.
In the new millennium Rabia created the most impressive monument of her career. Human Existence is the title of the sculpture now with the Pakistan National Museum of Art in Islamabad. The sculpture of seven figures in a circular artwork is envisioned as elongated forms with expressive arms, hands and faces The dynamic movement apparent in the flying locks of hair and diverse anguished postures. It is a cry for a return to humanity. While men of destruction go about their business, artists continue to bring hope to the world.
The art of Hajra Mansur maintains its popularity. At art events in Singapore, America, England and in Delhi, Hajra’s work has been invariably singled out by interested spectators. Watercolour as a medium began its popularity in Karachi in the `60s when Hajra was instrumental in establishing Karachi’s first art school. Since the 1970, Hajra’s work attracted attention in Karachi’s newly established art galleries. She has painted continuously through changing times and experience. Her life encompasses the foundation of an art school in Karachi, marriage motherhood and changing venues, yet she remained true to her muse. From the beginning she has been extremely popular, in Pakistan and abroad. At an art exhibition arranged in the UK by the Export Promotion Bureau, as her work was hung, two women argued as to who would acquire it, both wanted the painting of a beautiful bejewelled woman.
In Singapore, at an art programme on Pakistan’s art, a young Mandarin speaking student, after the lecture, mimed the pose of the artist’s painting and went off happily with the presentation of transparencies of her work. She has a universal appeal that is undeniable, and though art is boundless with many exciting developments; still the sheer pleasure of melting colours, graceful forms and echoes of bygone ages continue to weave their spell.Well versed in diverse art media, Meher Afroze received her art education from the Lucknow Schoolo of Art, and institute that was well equipped for printmaking.
Particularly drawn to graphics, Afroz emerged as a regular prize-winner at successive National Exhibitions. Afroze arrived in Karachi in `71, and was disappointed to find a dearth of printmaking facilities, yet her first solo exhibition in 1974, featured prints the likes of which had never been seen in Karachi. A few years later her innovations were acknowledged when she was accorded the Top Honours in the Graphics Section of the National Art Exhibition.
On joining the Central Institute of Arts and Crafts, Karachi in `73, the artist took up the challenge of setting up a workshop for printmaking. The press was donated, the space was a converted storeroom, but from that small beginning sprung an interest in printmaking that influenced Karachi’s art education centres.
Noorjehan Bilgrami graduated from the Central Institute of Arts and Crafts, Karachi in 1974. As a visual artist she has a number of group and solo exhibitions to her credit, but her great interest has been the crafts traditions of Pakistan. It was an interest the led to the opening of an Atelier in Karachi that pioneered the revival of hand block printed fabrics in the country. Her research resulted in a number of publications and documentary films on traditional textiles. In 2001 she was awarded a scholarship to pursue research in Japan.
One of the founders of the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture in 1990 and was the first Executive Director. In 2009 she opened the Koel Art Gallery, Karachi. Noorjehan has lectured at universities and museums in many countries of the world. Through her work she has initiated recognition on the arts and crafts of Pakistan globally.
The artist has exhibited numerous acclaimed works of art through the years, with the impeccable use of the media.
With the Renaissance Exhibition curated by Yusaf Agha, once again one remembered the exciting era of women artists emerging on the art scene, and taking their distinguished places in the history of art in Pakistan.