Remarkable art of Sadequain

ByElsa Sc S

Doing her graduation from LUMS & a keen researcher


December 24, 2022

Remarkable art of Sadequain

Elsa Sc S mentions the amazing artistic contribution of a
master artist

The Remarkable art of Sadequain outstanding artist of Pakistan breathed his last 35 years ago in February 1987 ending a fantastic chapter of exalted exposition of artistic imagery. Syed Sadequain Ahmed Naqvi, Tamgha-e-Imtiaz, Pride of Performance, Sitara-e-Imtiaz, was a world-renowned Pakistani artist, best known for his skills as a calligrapher and a painter. Sadequain was responsible for the renaissance of Islamic calligraphy in Pakistan. He claimed that his transformation into a calligrapher was manifested by divine inspiration.
Sadequain was a loveable maverick who was decisively above the mundane considerations and possessed a spirit that was lofty enough to have transcended all worldly matters. Sadequain was an exception who was immensely popular but never compromised on his almost fanatic sincerity, accuracy and devotion to work.

Hailing from a family of scribes, Sadequain was a truant as a student drawing sketches on walls of the school as well as on the houses where he lived. It, however, became apparent that he possessed a genius that did not require any formal training. The result was that he was a self-taught artist who believed in fast pace and non-stop activity. His ceaseless activity made him comfortably shift mediums and all his shifts produced fantastic results.

He was by nature a Sufi never convinced of the permanence of art and shunned its possession, a belief that saw him never taking any money for his masterpieces and gifting them to anyone around him. His temperament made him incapable of forming fixed relationships and he never confined himself to geographical boundaries. He was prolific beyond measure and it is estimated that he produced more than 15,000 pieces of art consisting of paintings, drawings, calligraphies and murals. His illustrious three decade career produced some of the most intricate and visually stunning works and his abstracted figurative forms is distinct from his other contemporaries and unrivalled in the field of Modernism.

Sadequain plunged into intense creative activity in the 1950s and his genius was amply reflected in exhibitions in Europe and America throughout the 1960s. Throughout his career he undertook large-scale public works particularly his murals. His sense of the collective social ethos informed the undercurrent of his practice and he was able to push this understanding to extraordinary dimensions both in physical and metaphoric terms, in the public murals he undertook at the State Bank of Pakistan, Frere Hall, Lahore Museum, Mangla Dam and other public locations.

Sadequain was invited to visit Paris in 1960 and was the laureate winner in the category ‘Artists under 35’ at the 2nd Paris Biennale in 1961 and was endowed with a scholarship to remain in Paris marking his career and fame in Europe and the start of his residencies at several galleries across Paris and London. Being true to his eccentricity, he never followed the tradition and created his own style of script. His alphabets exude motion, mood and paint vivid pictures of the message of the word. It is often said that nobody can challenge his work that it has been taken from any kind of source either western or eastern. His style of work was unique and was termed to be linear in nature. The important thing is that he was the painter of ideas and he never looked to paint the same painting twice or more than once.

The dominant idea in his work is the man’s quest to discover himself and his surroundings and this focus is most popular among the art lovers. His works depicting Cubist-like figures, seascapes and landscapes, which often tackled moral and political issues, gained him fame. Sadequain believed that his paintings spoke for themselves and that viewers should interpret them as they wish. He said that he did not preplan or preconceive but as the painting begins to unfold and the image begins to take form, so does the message behind the imagery for that is the soul of his work.

In the field of calligraphy, Sadequain created his own distinct script outside of the traditional kufic (angular) and naskh (cursive) styles and he turned a practical art form into one of vivid expression, a shift that has given calligraphy a presence in the contemporary art scene of Pakistan. The Arabic script, painted into non-representational forms is a brilliant example of his avant-garde employment of abstraction. By modernising the ancient calligraphic techniques, he was also responsible for the renaissance of Islamic calligraphy in Pakistan.

His pronounced interest in literature particularly endeared him immensely to the public. Sadequain was himself a poet and illustrated the works of Ghalib, Faiz, Iqbal and Camus. He also paid tribute to the Ghalib and Faiz Ahmed Faiz through large oil paintings in which their famous verses were illustrated. He donated his artworks to people and institutions in places as distant as Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, India, Middle East, Austria, Switzerland, France, England, the US and Canada to name a few. Moreover, he once gifted 250 paintings to the Pakistan National Council of Arts in Islamabad and used to give away his best works of art for free. The artistic merit of his work aside, the monetary worth of his donations according to international art institutions exceeds more than a billion dollars. TW


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