POLISHING MIRRORS IN LAND OF BLIND PEOPLE
M.A. RAHMAN CHUGHTAI’S ASSERTIONS ABOUT ART
Exposure to Art hurts the common man more than it helps him
Absolute disappointment was in the air. The opening of the Lahore Museum as well as the Mayo School of Arts had revealed an inherent weakness here. Somehow or the other the aesthetic sense was not there at all. The visitors to Lahore Museum did not know what to look at and how to look at Art itself. Nobody wanted to send their working children to Mayo School of Arts. John Lockwood Kipling was in big trouble. Inducements were given for enrollment n college and when even that did not work, Kipling Sahib hired children of prostitutes in the Hira Mandi to attend school. This is a documentary fact about art at that time. Lahore Museum published a small booklet which was used for decades there and it was entitled ‘How to look at Art?’ The Dev Samaj founder Brahman Dewtva was teaching Art at Government College Lahore as a Drawing Master. English teachers were there at the Central Training School of teachers. The English recognized that most of the Indian audience were literally DANGARS about art, and ‘dangar’ meant literally ‘like animals’.
This takes us back thousands of years when the Central Asian marched into India. Obsessed with wall painting related to their Buddhist culture, the finest paintings were being made in Central Asian and on the Silk route to China, where they still exist on walls of ancient caves. Ajanta was the first revelation of paintings in this God forsaken region. And after Ajanta there was no painting in the region for something like 800 years. The armies of China and Mongolia spread the art again. The Muslims brought their own version of painting into the region. The Mughals excelled in this art to all counts. Not only did they excel in it, they created the art into their Hindu subjects, who were quick to learn an art which was alien to their own tradition.
The lack of aesthetic sense is even literally there today. We do not know how to look at Art. We have no patience that Art requires for analysis. We have no patience to stop at traffic lights, for all the time we are trying to enter gaps and holes in the traffic. So how can we have any patience for viewing Art in general? The VIPS of our life are senseless about Art, not having the faintest sense for its intricacy. Malik Shamas, one of the foremost art critics of Pakistan, once said that although we have acute sense for poetry and can interpret complex verses easily, we have not even a basic cue about Art.
The task before M.A. Rahman Chughtai was not only to create Art or collect Art, but also generate in people a love for Art. For that he did whatever he could. He wrote articles, he addressed people in functions as well as on radio, took out magazines in local language and promoted Art at all spheres. He imposed on writers and scholars to have dustcovers for their books designed by him, to inculcate aesthetics in people. Today the situation should have been better.
When the Government of Pakistan forsakes Art and Culture, it was not possible for it to go forward. Have we ever heard of a Government sponsored show in Pakistan or abroad? Have we ever heard of the Government buying some Art works of poor artists? Not at all. Have we not heard of land grabbing activities of both Federal as well as provincial governments of places related to the Arts. We are one example ourselves. But that is a story for another time, another place.