Home Features Cosmic curves: On forgetting the sublime Sadequain

Cosmic curves: On forgetting the sublime Sadequain

17 min read

Farman Ali

There is one right answer to a question. One solution to a problem. And one angle to looking at things. That one right answer, one solution and one angle come from a teacher, an elder, a boss or a TV anchorperson, mostly, in our part of the world. That’s how we are schooled and trained, aren’t we?

 As a consequence, among other rich rewards that we reap, we tend to get answers, solutions and views on things from a cross section of society that is similar if not same. Definitive, black & white, and conclusive.

No wonder then when we hear: ‘There is no dearth of talent in our country’ (which land produces all nerds?). ‘We have a rich past’ (who doesn’t?). ‘All the major inventions in science that the West builds on were by Muslims’ (does that mean we have played our part already?). All the world, led by Israel, US and India are out to destroy us (Is that the only reason?).

We sleep easy taking comfort in the knowledge that by rights, it is us alone who are destined to lord over the universe. It is just the matter of ‘conspirators’ going minding their own shop.

Illustration of Faiz’s epic poetry: Lot Jati Hai Udhar Ko Bhi Nazar Kia Keejeyeye/ Ab Bhi Dilkash Hai Tera Husn Magar Kia Keejeyeye (I Cannot help but notice the dreadful conditions all around/ Your Beauty is still captivating but what can you do)

While we cut a sorry figure among this cacophony of complaints, we conveniently not only forget but disown those few among us who still were able to make a mark on the world’s stage, despite everything. Sadequain is one.

 Gracious google

Sadequain, Pakistan’s most revered and prolific artist, calligrapher, muralist, poet and intellectual, was honoured by Google on his 87th birth anniversary on June 30 by putting up a doodle. The Google Doodle is a special, temporary alteration of the logo on the website’s homepage meant to celebrate holidays, events, achievements and eminent people.

That doodle created a little wave among the social media users. And that was that.

While our education continues to focus on grades (read right answers), others bemoan the broken system that doesn’t let the immense potential this land has bloom. In the meanwhile, we can conveniently leave celebrating our geniuses to the outside world.

 To recognise a genius, a genius it takes. Mediocrity holds its own better among its own kind: mediocrity. Producing just that is what our system is geared towards.

“Sadequain stroked new life into the centuries-old art of Islamic calligraphy, turning words into vibrantly detailed expressionist paintings,” Google reminds us.

Art connoisseurs

Not all is lost. Two, our very own, art connoisseurs — Dr Salman Ahmed and Dr Arjumand Faisal — have done some commendable work to keep Sadequain completely fading out from our collective memory.

Dr Salman Ahmed, Founder and President of the San Diego-based SADEQUAIN Foundation, when contacted through e-mail to get his comments on the doodle, said, “I would say that it could not have been done for a better person. Sadequain for his intellect and what he gave to the nation has no parallel.” 

Dr Ahmed, an electrical engineer by profession, says culture as a whole is the identity of a nation. Not the man-made boundaries, political or business leaders, or the others, but art and literature define a nation. Artists, poets, writers, and others engaged in fine arts are the best ambassadors of a nation.

“Sadequain among them is among the elite.”

Our nation cannot have a better ambassador than Sadequain. We as a nation should be proud of his recognition by an international organisation. In his lifetime, Sadequain was internationally recognised in art circles. But, now in his own nation, his name is barely known, Ahmed said.

“I was very pleasantly surprised to see this tribute to Sadequain by Google,” says Dr Arjumand Faisal, a noted artist in his own right and curator of Gallery6. “It is heartening to see that all those who have been making efforts to get Sadequain recognised internationally is beginning to pay off.”

A large mural by Sadequain

We have to work more for spreading information about this unique and amazing personality around the globe as Sadequain is incomparable and deserves far more recognition around the globe, he says.

Sadequain is our pride and the world must know what a brilliant artist, poet, calligrapher he was who even introduced a new script Khat-e-Sadequain, Dr Faisal says.

State’s (un) gargantuan role

Large Mural at the Hindu University, Varanasi, India

About the steps taken by the cultural authorities and government for the preservation of the artwork of the great artist, Dr Ahmed said Pakistan Government recognised Sadequain while he was alive in a manner it has not done for anyone. Among other forms of recognition, the government established three art galleries in his name in Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad. However, after his death all the three galleries were closed and the artworks amounting to over $100 million went unaccounted for. About 10 years ago Sadequain’s name was wiped out from the collective memory of the nation. On his special days such as birth or death anniversary, there was no mention on media or otherwise.

About the Sadequain Award, he said Karachi Municipal Corporation (KMC) used to organise Sadequain Awards in Karachi for approximately 16 years until 2013. The Foundation refurbished and furnished Galerie Sadequain at the Frere Hall and inaugurated it last February.

“During the ceremony, I personally handed a letter to the Mayor of Karachi Waseem Akhtar in which I requested KMC to reinitiate the Award and offered that SADEQUAIN Foundation will manage all expenses. We also proposed that the 40 marble slabs of calligraphies that Sadequain had gifted to KMC in 1986 but were later relegated to somewhere in the corporation’s facility in FB Area, be relocated to Galerie Sadequain. The mayor agreed and announced to reinitiate the award but we have not received any response from the KMC yet”, says Ahmed.

Sadequain never sold his work except for a very few large commissioned works. He simply gave away his work and hence was his own worst enemy. There were no records, no inventory etc.

Birth, migration and recognition

Syed Sadequain Ahmed Naqvi was born on June 30, 1930, in Amroha, Uttar Pradesh state of India. After graduating from Agra University in Art History and Geography in 1948, he migrated to Pakistan. He stayed at Sujawal, Sindh, with his brother. In 1976 he started work on two large murals for the Sports Complex in Islamabad illustrating the struggle of working class for emancipation, national liberation struggle of the peoples of Asia and Africa against imperialism. During his visit to India after 33 years, he visited Varanasi and executed a mural, “Quest for Reality,” for Banaras Hindu University. He illustrated verses of Faiz Ahmed Faiz in 1985.

He composed, inscribed and compiled a collection of ghazals, nazms and marsia, later privately published entitled “Juzway Bosida”. He revived Islamic calligraphy, shaped it with a modernist approach and became one of the most celebrated artists of the world.

 He painted more than 15,000 pieces of gigantic murals, canvases, innovative calligraphic works and drawings. He passed away on February 10, 1987, in Karachi at the age of 57.

Sadequain’s prolific works still adorn walls of public buildings in Pakistan and India such as the Lahore Museum, Frere Hall in Karachi, Punjab University, Aligarh Muslim University, Banaras Hindu University and Indian Institute of Islamic Studies in Delhi to name a few. His murals frequently paid homage to the socio-economic struggles of the working class, bounties of mother earth and hope for the future.

He created his own distinct script outside of the traditional Kufic (angular) and Naskh (cursive) styles. Descended from a family of calligraphers, 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.

Sadequain also painted vast murals, drew elaborate illustrations, and even wrote powerful poetry. Though he created a large body of work, he rejected material wealth. He was an artist for the people and was known to give his paintings away for free, even refusing to take on commissions from royalty and heads of state around the world.

 Acknowledging his contribution to Pakistani art, the government awarded him Tamgha-i-Imtiaz and Presidential Medal of Honour.

He was also recognised in art circles abroad, receiving the Paris Biennale Prize in 1961.

About SADEQUAIN Foundation

The SADEQUAIN Foundation was registered in San Diago, California, in 2007. It is dedicated to discovering, preserving, and promoting the art of Sadequain. It has executed exhaustive research to locate hundred’s of previously unaccounted for and undocumented artwork of Sadequain in places as far as Hong Kong, Singapore, India, Middle East, Austria, Switzerland, France, England, USA, Canada, and many other places.

 The Foundation has published 13 books on Sadequain’s life and work. Since 2007, the Foundation has held exhibitions of Sadequain’s artwork at museums in Canada, USA and in Pakistan.

The Foundation is poised to publish a 12-volume catalogue of Sadequain’s work, comprising over 1,000 pages of text and over 2,000 selective paintings, murals, drawings, and calligraphies. It conducts seminars at museums and universities to raise awareness about his prodigious palette.

The Foundation supports research on Sadequain’s life and work and provides authentication of his works supported by its history, analyses, and provenance.

The Foundation’s ultimate goal is to establish a museum in Sadequain’s name, says Dr Ahmed.

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