When Pakistani artist Ali Kazim visited the unexcavated sites of the Indus Valley civilization, he noticed that
the surface of the landscape was entirely covered with terracotta shards. It looked like a Martian landscape.
“The pottery shards had physical imprints of the people who made the pots. Their fingerprints were there. It was unreal when I picked up a pottery shard and it had some imprint of the potter. It was a kind of time travelling key for me. I wanted to pick up on this narrative in my work,” he tells IANS.
Talking about his four-panel watercolour painting which is part of KNMA’s group exhibition ‘Inner Life of Things: Around Anatomies and
Armatures’, curated by Roobina Karode, the artist, a passout of Lahore’s National College of Arts, who was the University of Oxford’s
first South Asian artist-in-residence, says that for him the Harappan ruins are not really a landscape, but a collective portrait of the
people who may have lived there.
“I was more interested in creating a fictional narrative about those people by painting a surface filled with terracotta shards. It was rather a poetic approach.”
Fascinated by the South Asian miniature painting, Kazim, who was also invited to the Ashmolean Museum to be an artist-in-residence for the Gandhara Connections Research Programme, feels that artists struggle with the mechanics of the painting/work at the same time while they are formalising the ideas.
Remembering that when he made a body of work with graphic inks during his undergraduate course, he noticed that after some time certain colours had faded away more quickly, the artist recalls, “I was quite upset and wanted to fix the issue, and started experimenting with pigments which are richer in colour and do not fade away over the period of time. At that point, I looked at the Bengal school painting more carefully and examined the surfaces of works by Abanindranath Tagore, Rabindranath Tagore and A.R Chughtai’s
at the Lahore Museum. That is how I discovered a new and exciting way of making work. Besides, the miniature schools and the company school drawing are fascinating to look at.”
Kazim, who has shown widely in India –a solo show in 2008 and 2013 besides the Art fair, says, “Exhibiting in India has always been
an overwhelming experience.”
Adding that while current social and political situations in Pakistan do not really have an effect on his studio practice, he says, “Of course with adequate political stability, one feels more comfortable and grounded.”
Believing that there is a need to overhaul the art syllabus in academic institutions in both the countries, and bring in eastern approaches, he feels that the changes or creating a balance between the two depend on available academic resources.
“For instance, there are tons of publications, artists’ interviews and documentaries on western art available for academics and students. Unfortunately, in comparison not many publications on South Asian art and contemporary artists are available, nor is much material accessible even on digital platforms. We need to develop these resources first and slowly change will happen.”
The artist says that the pandemic-induced lockdowns proved to be the most productive time he spent in his studio in a decade.
“My routine was to be there by 10 a.m. I started the day by throwing a couple of forms on the pottery wheel then the rest of the time was spent painting. There was sufficient time to read and listen to the online talks and lectures.”
As the conversation veers toward the need for more exchanges between Indian and Pakistani artists, he says that entire South Asia needs to be more connected like the EU.
“Many families and friends are not able to meet each other owing to the political situation. We all have seen the very emotional visual of the two brothers separated during the partition and reuniting after 75 years at Kartarpur Sahib. But then, Faiz Ahmed Faiz says ‘Lambi Hai Gham Ki Sham Magar Sham he to Hai’.”
(Sukant Deepak can be reached at email@example.com)