The direction of the Ideology of Pakistan was as clear as crystal. International lobbies understood this well. There was need to displace everything that had ideological mooring. Art was under direct scrutiny. A group of young artists were engendered, imported and forced onto the audience. Their claim was very wide. Western art was to be forced onto Pakistan by imitating it in one way or the other. Even their costumes reflected same in shape of jeans, french beards and smoking pipes. Natural preferences unaccounted. Modern artists wished to give modern images of themselves. Another great change was the shift of water colour painting to oil based works in Pakistan. Various artists handled it in their way, but certainly they were being patronized to upset the existing reality. The 1949 grand show of Chughtai artist upset-ed Shemza. Anwar Jalal Shemza boldly said at Alhamra that he was there to uproot Chughtai artist, and he was heard not by few, but even by my cousin, who tells me the same all the time. Although Chughtai does not take the name, an attendant (guess whom?) of a lecture, he gave at Alhamra, heckled him about his art being Indian and not Pakistani. The reply of the artist was simple, “It was Chughtai Art then, it is Chughtai Art now!”. Did they achieve their goal? They tried their best, now lobbies are trying their best for them.
In Giza Egypt various mummies of Pharaohs are studied every day. Newer and newer research is done. But the mummies are dead. Their art keeps interest in them alive. The Pharaohs left plenty art for study. Pakistani artists of that period left little at all. In recent years western scholarship is working on the remnants of art left by the modern movement in Pakistan. Very little indeed. Interesting I had an opportunity to talk with some of those who are trying to revitalize the mummies of that period of art. One is certainly Ms Simone Wille with her book on Modern Art in Pakistan. She does mention the stereotype of Chughtai’s connection with Calcutta (hundred percent false) but had to mention the concept of Punjab School and Lahore too. I sent her relevant things but she did not avail them at all, for her own reasons. However she did assert Chughtai as ” the first artist to anticipate a Muslim cultural position”, absolutely correct. Gemma Sharpe, a very interesting English girl working in New York is working on modern art, including Shemza, and others. Working on the miraculous power of the kind of Jesus Christ, she wants to blow life in the left overs of that period. Best of luck to her! Shakir Ali the doyen of them all had a heart attack at YMCA on 18th January, 1975, while addressing a condolence seminar on Chughtai artist. He did not recover from that attack, but did utter the words, “If this was done to Chughtai, what would they do to me?” Moyene Najmi too ran a gallery for some time. His able and beloved wife Atiya carried him through various storms. Indeed Moyene Najmi was a gentleman and I met him various times at the Punjab Council of Arts. Ali Imam’s art gallery collapsed, and he made his living selling art of others. But he freaked out many times in his analysis of Chughtai art (the ridiculous conclusion about the bangles on a lady’s arm), and I discussed it with him in Karachi in Indus Gallery, and this was told to me by owner of Dawn, who visited us once here with another lady. In fact he was trying to buy a Chughtai painting from a collector which was a family heirloom in Hyderabad Deccan, as told to me by Nusrat ullah Shah, also originally from same place.
We used to hear all the time a saying of our culture and that was “Dhobi ka kuta na ghar ka na ghat ka”, and we tried to understand the implicit message. There was confusion in many people, their direction was not clear. They were stupefied by environmental pressure. True Masters do not get swayed by circumstances. They stick to their guns (brushes) all the time. The clarity of vision is always there. You can never be a Van Gogh just by calling yourself Van Gogh. Pablo Picasso was an exceptional draftsman, and he mocked people all the time. No relation to any local rebel in art.
Is M.A. Rahman Chughtai no more? Certainly his art is living as he himself would want it. Going forward with time. Dr Iqbal’s Reconstruction of religious thought in Islam is evident in the paintings of M.A. Rahman Chughtai. Evolution of Islamic art through innovation. Cubism, Vorticism, Picasso and what not, were in no way Pakistan. Nor is Post-modernism. Nor any fad that West may impose on us. The list is numerous, the results are zero for ourselves. Our naqashi patterns can make fun of Suprematism any time. Neo-colonialism does not work at all. We went to our roots and evolved with time in newer and newer grafts on the evergreen plant of our art. Imitation can actually never be great art. From Mani to Behzad to Mansoor to Chughtai, we have it all. Blowing horns of other civilizations is a joke on our society.