The 31st Annual Exhibition of the Artists' Association of Punjab (AAP) that took place recently with the collaboration of the Lahore Arts Council was a celebratory affair that included selected artworks from artists of all regions of the country. This year, the exhibition showed the artwork of 196 artists with the work displayed, including - paintings, prints, sculpture, graphic arts and installations of a very high standard.
Annual art exhibitions in Pakistan were initiated for the first time in Lahore by Anna Molka Ahmed in 1954, when an exhibition of diverse artists took place at the Punjab University making it a historic occasion. A.R. Chughtai and Haji Mohammad Sharif both exhibited their art to support the event and they donated medals - one gold and one silver - as prizes for the 'Best in Show'.
At that time, a young artist named Ahmed Parvez was working with his artist uncle, Jacobus Michael, but he was largely self-taught. He entered his art in the show and was awarded the first prize. His entry had been pastel pictures worked with children's chalk on printed newspaper. The work impressed Anna Molka and the judges with its simplicity and 'thoughtful yet virile imagination of the artist'. Ahmed Parvez became one of the Lahore Group who were close to Shakir Ali, and became an early and outstanding Abstract Expressionist painter.
The annual art exhibition arranged and mounted by the Artists' Association of Punjab, with an additional seminar has become a greatly enjoyed and admired annual feature of the art world, with artists participating from various provinces. The exhibition is an aesthetic delight with work of artists from throughout the country which creates an exciting visual experience. One discovers the artist's view of the world through beautiful images, colour and forms.
One must appreciate the continuity of the AAP through the years. With the distinguished artist, art critic, author and recipient of President's Pride of Performance, Mian Ijaz ul Hassan at the helm, and holding regular meetings with a supportive art-involved committee, strongly supported by the outstanding, dedicated secretary of the association, artist Ghulam Mustafa, the AAP continues to flourish, and is keen to encourage artists from other provinces who are keen to start an association.
One remembers that years ago in Karachi, an artist's association was formed with Bashir Mirza as chairperson, but it appeared at the time that Karachi's artists were not ready for the commitment and it folded up after some time. Once again Mian Sahib is urging the formation of artists' associations in other provinces and many admire his firm resolution.
Many of the artists exhibiting their work are teachers. In art, there is a thorough grounding needed in the disciplines and history of art essential to equip students for a kaleidoscopic world. Students leaving their protective art schools, are keen to travel further in search of a vocabulary and are confronted with expressions and experiences that question the trusted norms of their early years. Artists, as much as poets, examine the forms made by others - not only the work of their contemporaries but also the art of the past, as well as those of other cultures.
No longer do cultures live in comparative segregation, like in the past when experience was limited to certain common characteristics. Today, an artist is called upon to summon up a great power of receptivity. In the west one comes across art students from many parts of the world who admit they find it initially very hard to be plunged into the art of the 21st century. In the 19th century, Impressionists adopted elements from Japanese woodcuts, Picasso and Matisse discovered the strength evoked in the distortion of primitive art. Modern Art output owes its contemporary forms to adopted techniques and idioms that have been imaginatively metamorphosed into interesting and original developments.
Viewing the work displayed was a compelling aesthetic experience, with landscapes and seascapes; cities lovingly depicted with the hustle and bustle of town life; and the breathtaking beauty of the country's rural and mountainous regions. There were portraits, modern and traditional, and original compositions of sculpture that created interest.
Beautiful traditional and contemporary artworks in a miniature style were shown, with every painting carrying the individuality of the artist.
Until the emergence of the revitalised department of miniature painting in the early 80s, there were no women students of miniature art at the National College of Arts. The department which offered a degree in the discipline began to attract young women painters and the first to gain international acclaim was Shazia Sikander in the 90s. Now the movement is acclaimed by important art circles throughout the world of art. •