THE HERMIT ARTIST FROM EAST PAKISTAN
SULTAN THE BOHEMIAN PATRONIZED BY FATIMA JINNAH HERSELF
Where has he gone now? His art and all that.
Quaid-e-Azam had succeeded in making the dream of a revolutionary Islamic State come true. Pakistan was finally there. But there and then, where those who loved Pakistan, started giving it their best, the other part, the opposition, started their best to undo Pakistan. This is a strange phenomena. In Art a similar wave started, when Governor General Ghulam Muhammed, who knew nothing about Art, started raving about Art and the need for birth of the NEWER MODERN SCHOOL. Obviously that meant a modern artist would be created and a number of them were already on the scene to undo the Ideology of Pakistan. S.M. Sultan was in more ways than one such an artist. Completely bohemian, with wild man’s look, he fretted about art in his own way.
None other than Fatima Jinnah herself was goaded to take the challenge of promoting this man. Good, no issue! But how good he really was? Admired as an intellectual for his rejection of most facets of modern life, still he was termed as a Modern Artist. It is unfortunate that art history is full of dustbins of various artists. The very need to pretend to be something borders on hypocrisy of highest order. S. Amjad Ali paid his YMCA bills at Lahore, otherwise the Manager was seriously considering action against Sultan for nonpayment of stay dues. But that was the definition of being modern. Totally irresponsible! The Bengali figures seen in his art are even as a form of realism, totally unlike Bengal itself. Nothing new, nothing extraordinary. Nor classic, nor avant garde. In literal terms, ordinary. Compare him with Zainul Abedeen, a friend of my father, who I had the pleasure of meeting myself in Dacca. He looked as an artist and painted masterpieces, and he will be respected forever in any world.
Bengal fascinated M.A. Rahman Chughtai too. We see many Bengali subjects in his art and here is Bengali rendition which is forever. He had a huge following in East Pakistan. We have included some of these for people to enjoy. We have nothing against S.M. Sultan but in a desire to jump start their career, they resorted to gimmickry, which we do not like in any way. Surely Sultan had talent, but in his desire to be avant garde, he discarded it, and became faceless in the quest of time itself.
Ifftikhar Dadi writes: “Sadequain also befriended the East Pakistani artist S. M. Sultan (1923-94), who had arrived in Karachi in 1951, and the two artists spent much time together. Sultan, who had earlier attended the Calcutta School of Art with the help of Hasan Shahid Suhrawardy, an art critic and member of the school’s governing body, led a singular nonconformist life, eventually settling in a village in East Pakistan and adopting the ways of a Shivite ascetic. Sultan’s nonconformist life has been a subject of fascination on the part of many Bangladeshi intellectuals, and it undoubtedly influenced Sadequain’s fashioning of his own social singularity.” The way of life becomes more important than the work itself.
Pakistani Art history is full of dustbin of Art Gimmickry. Touted as revolutions, the movements died their down death soon later. In the quest of permanence, only the extraordinary is given life in the quest of time. As John Keats said, “A thing of beauty is a joy for ever: Its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness.”