Jamil Naqsh - Honouring History

We all know the Indus Valley civilisation as one of three oldest civilisations of the Old World. Blossomed in the basin of the Indus River, this era has been of interest to writers, archaeologists and artists alike. And why not? It’s one of the oldest and prized treasures of Pakistan that have long lacked their due respect. We’ve read books about them or seen them in twisted movie plots but historically speaking, the UNESCO World Heritage Site has not been excavated enough to uncover hidden truths of the past.

It has been the obsession of artists and I had the pleasure of attending one such art exhibition launch titled “Fisher Women of my Mohenjo-daro” by the legendary, Jamil Naqsh. The private art exhibition was held at the Jamil Naqsh Museum, which is also his family residence at Seher Commercial. The event had high security, invite-only elite of Karachi who had to sign up and go through body checks to pass. Entering the house through a narrow pebbled pathway into an open courtyard, the house was a personification of modern architecture. The black and white interior was utmost monochrome elegance and the well-lit open courtyard and the glass walls brought homeliness to what was supposed to be a museum. I couldn’t help but wonder how an interior designer must’ve had so much fun bringing this place together, down to every last detail.

Entering the museum area of the residence, neat rows of vintage white chairs were aligned. I was quizzical at how more than a 100 people RSVP-ed and only 20 would have the pleasure of finding seating. The elite and polished were in attendance in modish suits and heels, most of whom were the ‘it’ crowd of the city’s art world or friends of the family. On the right of the seating area was a display of Naqsh’s paintings.

To match the interior, all the paintings had either black or white frames and showcased extremely loud, vibrant and wild colours. Naqsh is known and celebrated for defying modern art and staying true to his art form without assimilating “abstract forms” or more boldly put in his own words, “ugliness and distortion” and calling it art. Naqsh is famous for obsessing over his close childhood connection with pigeons but in alignment with the theme, the hero of the painting, was marine life. Bold and sharp strokes brought to life the face of a woman and a fish, highlighting and conversing how the livelihood in the Bronze Age depended on fishing and how a whole civilization managed to grow to a supposed population of five million. Although the theme of the collection was impressive enough earn eyebrow rasies, the paintings were not named individually. But commending the artist’s talent, a Naqsh painting will bring the walls to life and deserve to own an entire wall, so that nothing can interrupt with the vibe it establishes.

Interestingly enough, the museum is run by the Jamil Naqsh Foundation founded in 1991 and initially operating from the commercial hub of the city, Shah-re-Faisal before moving to Defence last year. The foundation as well as the museum is a family run affair, with Mrs. Sobia Naqsh heading as director. In conversation with her to learn more about Mr. Naqsh and the foundation, I learnt he comes from a family of artists, poets, writer; creative lineage, if I may. He has held multiple solo exhibitions in Pakistan as well as in the UK and is recipient to a whole collection of honors and awards, a list too long to summarise.

On the panel to inaugurate the exhibition was Quddus Mirza (art connoisseur), M.M. Usmani (Chairman), Tayyaba Habib (trustee) and the chief guest Dr. Arif Alvi (President of Pakistan). In a speech, the president said how art was responsible to give aesthetic expression in a culture and contributes to creating awareness about social justice, harmony and the characteristics of and in life. In reference to the theme of the exhibition, he acknowledged, with gratification, the significance of historical and cultural significance that Mohenjo-daro brings to our home and the weight of the responsibility to preserve it. •