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     Volume 8 Issue 52 | January 9, 2009 |

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Reminiscences in Lahore

Fayza Huq

Tayyaba Begum Lipi’s controversial and iconoclastic artistic works have been admired both at home and overseas. Her endeavours, in connection with the Britto Trust has always been something to write home about. To add to her artistic knowledge, Lipi visited Pakistan recently, this being her second visit. Her enthusiasm to add to her thirst for knowledge has taken her further on to the first world countries-- but they have not always been recounted or recorded, even in passing. Using razor blades, paintings of exotic legendary birds with women's head and other haunting female forms in the veil, Lipi, in her installations at Lahore, created quite a stir in her quest for liberation of the human mind.

Lipi's installation in Lahore.

The studio where she worked named after RM Naim, is reportedly Pakistan's largest gallery, and draws artists from all over South Asia. Naim is a teacher in Lahore, in the Painting Department while his wife, Sadaf Naim, a teacher in fashion designing, was the co-ordinator for the programme. "In our tight schedule, I had only ten days to work in which I did two paintings, four feet by four feet, and an installation which was eight feet by five feet,” says Lipi. “Apart from exchange of ideas and views in our 'addas', we had a formal presentation, as in the case of most residencies. A rapt audience of about 200 art enthusiasts, artists and critiques gathered there to view and discuss the exhibition. A text by a British critique, who resides in Karachi, summed up the work," says Lipi.

One of the paintings contain the artist's own shape, wearing a "burqa", and has a camouflage which recalled motifs taken from army uniforms. This, in turn, mingled with more images of wriggling and floating sperms that were created by drawings done with pen and ink. The point that Lipi wanted to drive home was that she felt that army government heads are often confused and depressed, the world over, and not quite as confident or buoyant as they may appear to be. "There is similarity and difference, I believe, in our existence, as that in our rulers -- who formulate the guidelines and patterns of our everyday existence and lifestyle. As many countries are Islamic there are some basic fundamental similarities -- should one care to examine deep and ponder over the situation. The suppression of women's rights is there in numerous countries. As I reckon, the socio-political and economic situations in many countries in the third world are similar. The razor blades that I've used symbolise the harsh and thoughtless means to bind and control women. I've used about 3,000 silver and black razor blades in all-- some seen hanging and others being pasted on. When the spotlight of the gallery fell on the blades, mystifying, dancing shadows resulted. The ' burqa' stood for a stultifying cage. The female corpse, meanwhile, was cut out of plywood." says Lipi.

The other participants at the residency says Lipi, went in for paintings, as Pakistani artists, specially in Lahore, are mostly painting-based, and do go in for sculpture or installations in a big way. The exception, according to Lipi, was Osman Ghowri from Karachi , who taught print-,making at Lahore, and who had painted a plastic heart in gold and mounted it on board. This presented a play of human feelings. Apart from this was Ghowri's screen print, tinted with tealeaves, carrying the symbol of a germinating seed. This was delineated with different types of textures.

"Sadaf Naim, meanwhile, had a painting with women's figures with covered heads. She too had suppression of women in mind. Sabah Khan, a Fullbright scholar scheduled for the US, in turn, dealt with different types of interlacing designs, with the subject juxtaposed in front in the form of a bird, says Lipi. Her work involved narration of stories with incredible humour. Irfan Hassan, who was originally from Karachi, and who had studied in Lahore, was basically a student of miniatures, had also fascinating entries. Like many Pakistani artists, his miniature had contemporary thought content and technique , although it had the famous Moghul miniatures as its roots. His topic was contemporary, as was seen in the fairly recent workshop at Drik, Dhaka, which had an instructor from Lahore.

Lipi uses razor blades to symbolise the harsh and thoughtless means that are adopted to control women.

"The present miniature work from Pakistan is undoubtedly mind-boggling. Each such miniature painting takes two weeks to a month to complete. Such is the effort put on tiny pieces of paper that one can count every single strand of hair on the heads of the human figures," says Lipi.

Commenting on the Lahore artists, Lipi says: "They are definitely well aware of what is going on in the field of Fine Arts. This may be said of not just the artwork of in and around the Subcontinent but the world over. I was surprised that so many of the artists there were acquainted, for instance, with my work. Their curiosity for other parallel experimental work appealed to me greatly. In Bangladesh, I feel, artists have their exhibitions, but fail to have much interaction with other fellow artists or visitors. When painting or sculpting, the artists there have a clear content matter in their minds and are ready to answer anyone about their work, instead of being taciturn or arrogant.

“Even the ordinary gallery visitor, and not just art students, came up with numerous questions, which spoke of their enquiring minds. In fact, I grew somewhat exhausted with the battery of questions, so that I had to take refuge in an inner room for the time being. Each individual, in the constant stream of viewers, had questions to fire me with, and I was naturally elated by this rapport with the Lahorites.”

Painting by Lipi.

Lipi had been to Lahore earlier, and she is totally fascinated with the city with its historical Moghul architecture, bewitching gardens and their exotic flowers and birds. She was also fascinated with the manicured lawns; turrets of mosques and palaces and ramparts of forts. “This centuries-old city -- with its racing horse-drawn carts, mustachioed men with turbans and floating garments; "parathas" and mouth-watering "kababs"-- is surely a spot with tremendous artistic sensibility and savoir faire,” says Lipi. The spirit of the adventurous and artistic Moghuls is in the air -- even if one goes to the ordinary" havelis" (houses) with their unique sense of leisure and work, adds Lipi.

“One feels that one is a "dramatis personae" in a centuries old enfolding drama, while viewing the exotic and ancient place that has resulted in the flowering of the enquiring modern mind of the 21st century,” says Lipi. Lipi mentions that it is no wonder, that young Pakistani artists have successful exhibitions today at Mont Marte and Victoria Albert Museum . Available scholarships to UK and the US for these artists are there too, to encourage them. The number of local patrons of these artists is also heartening. Their sale, in Bangladesh, in comparison, can only be compared to that of master painters, she concludes.

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