CAUGHT BETWEEN THE RACE FOR CULTURAL PROPAGATION OF PAKISTAN – USA AND USSR VYING FOR REAL ATTENTION OF PRESIDENT ZIA UL HAQUE
It is not often that phone calls from the President house are received, and the Military Secretary bent upon the idea of the President inaugurating a Chughtai’s anniversary show at Chughtai Museum and taking an exhibition of Chughtai to USA. The eagerness of President Zia ul Haque was so unsettling. He had visited the USA and made an offer to the Metropolitan Museum in New York for a room devoted to Pakistani Art. Stuart Cary Welch was in charge there (and our guest here the same year in 1981 at my personal invitation), and had his own plans. He plainly said that the museum is not a hotel where you can hire rooms, even when the offer of a million dollars was made by the Pakistani President. Amongst things he wanted was not new things. He had eyes for an inscription from the Maryiam Zamani mosque in Lahore, a pavilion from Shalimar Gardens and other exotic things. There was a meeting in Lahore at Hilton hotel, attended by B.A. Qureshi, and architect Ms Yasmeen Lari amongst others. I waited outside in the parking lot, and Stuart Cary Welch wasted no time with these committees. In moments he was outside and we went to the mausoleum of Emperor Jahangeer. In Islamabad President Zia ul Haque presented an expensive carpet to the American scholar, and his wife.
The Russian Ambassador V. Smirnov wanted a Chughtai’s show in Moscow. The Cultural Secretary Masood Nabi Noor asked me to say NO to him. USSR was not being favoured at that time. But I was in mood to take blame for something that was not even my idea. V. Smirnov was very persistent and was making offer of ‘wine and girls’ to all involved. I was stunned with his non-diplomatic moves. The Pakistani bureaucracy planned a show of Chughtai Art at Hirshhorn Museum in USA. I was asked for cooperation. But I gave my own terms. I did not trust the bureaucratic management and said that I will take the paintings myself to Washington (in biting snow cold city), and when the show was over, will bring them back myself. I was refused as no one was willing to guarantee me the safety of the works. Already a PNCA official had disappeared with probably 5000 US $ as well as collection of paintings of PNCA. So some works were collected for that show, the Pakistani Art show at Hirshhorn Museum. It had two very average Chughtais in it.
The show was held and seen, and the art critic of Washington Times, with great artistic background, and love for art (she would get involved with art works), wrote on that exhibition. That is Ms Jane Addams. She wrote the following:
“All contemporary painters of Pakistan owe a debt to A.R. Chughtai and his two watercolours are the masterpieces of the exhibition. He is the Matisse of Pakistani art, an artist who stoutly maintained his links with the style and themes of Mughal Art, inspite of the British Imperial presence, but who used his knowledge of Degas and Manet to give a western compositional solidarity to his paintings. Unfortunately most of the other figurative artists of the show fall short of Chughtai’s genius.” (Washington Times report of the show at Hirshhorn, 1982)
It was not a feather in their cap, it was assertion of our identity. Ms Jane Addams Allen was famous for her Chicago art scene, having engendered the magazine “The New Art Examiner” with her later husband Derek Guthrie, another important artist himself. The Washington Times wrote her obituary in this way:”Known for her graceful writing style, encyclopedic knowledge of art history and a gentle but firm approach to criticism, Miss Allen won numerous national journalism awards during her career. ““In the presence of art, Jane Addams Allen grows luminous,” wrote Sophy Burnham in a 1987 Museum & Arts Washington profile. “Her writing has a sweetness and clarity. She is in love with art.”
Ms Jane Addams Allen had even lectured at some universities on art criticism. Her death on 31st January, 2004, left a void on the American art scene of able pioneers of art criticism.
P.S.We are grateful to Ms Sarah McQuaid folk singer for providing us with a photograph of her mother. Thank you Sarah for your cooperation! You made this over due blog happen.