By Fareeha Qayoom
uddus Mirza needs no introduction in the art world. He’s already known for many hats – artist/painter, Art teacher at NCA, Art Curator and a writer/art critic. So many activities mean, so little time hence he’s constantly on the move. We were supposed to meet at NCA for our little chat but I was running late, so we finally met at the Hamail Art Gallery.
He had come down to critique an Indian artist’s paintings on display. I got a rare glimpse of watching an art critic at work. He was meticulous – I had seen all the paintings in five minutes flat, but he spent at least ten minutes on each one, absorbing all the nuances. There were about twenty to thirty paintings easily I think. I liked the way Quddus handled the artist too. I only liked two paintings out of the whole lot but what do I know? I have no grounding in art. When asked what did I think about them? I was totally tactless and truthful. The paintings were very dark. The subject of each painting a solitary woman looking lonely with couple of them having only a white bird for company, I would call the entire series of paintings ‘hundred degrees of solitude.” Clearly, in India women fare no better than here, (if the artist’s work is to be believed), but you couldn’t tell what Quddus was thinking. He was very tactful and respectful of the artist’s sensibilities. He has a very warm and relaxed aura around him that allowed the artist to open up to him, encouraging him to talk. I was impressed.
So how did he come into art? “Unknowingly. First, it became a hobby, then an obsession, then a profession and then a liability,” he quips with a straight face. “But seriously, I am very happy with my career choice. It offers me a lot of scope to explore all aspects of art and life. The upside (of training in art) is that it allows you to develop an eye for it (art and design), but the downside is that instead of taking it at face value and just enjoying it, you end up dissecting each work of art you see, it’s like being a cook who can’t enjoy the food he cooks anymore, the fun goes out of looking at art,” he remarks.
So what does he paint? “I paint life, but basically images and ideas that deal with the political and social scene, making them interesting in a creative but not in any obscure way. No, not like Picasso. It’s not abstract but based on reality, real images, like writing in a way, ordinary symbols that people can understand.” “People don’t look at work. They don’t really look hard. You need five to ten minutes to really evaluate something. But people have a short attention span. Painting is not like television screen,” he completes.
So what is his favorite color? “Day light,” he jokes. “I don’t have favorite colors. Color is not an absolute thing. Colors are usually surrounded by other colors. Color also comes in a shape. A red circle will have a totally different impact on people than a red square for example. Color cannot be an absolute symbol,” he asserts.
“The problem with Pakistan? There is neither culture for art nor any exposure to art here. Unfortunately, its not taught as a subject in school. There are no museums or art galleries. Take cricket as an example – people understand the game because they are exposed to it 24/7. Children are playing it in the streets. They tune in whenever there is a match. Art is not treated like that here,” he comments.
Art cannot be commercial in Quddus’ opinion. “The process of creativity is not targeted at an audience. It’s about self-expression. Van Goh’s work may be appreciated today but what would he care? Creativity is very self-oriented process. It’s a way of exploring yourself. It’s about self comprehension,” he says.
He likes being an art curator. “I think it’s very important to curate art. You can start a collection by name, color or composition. I welcome and look for opportunities to curate. It’s your statement about Pakistani art, your unique point of view, it’s like being a kind of a director,” he declares.
Quddus likes to teach. “I teach because I like teaching. Teaching twenty creative minds, harnessing all that energy and giving it direction is a great source of satisfaction to me, besides, it’s good for me too I keep current and learn from my students too. The only downside is that it drains your energy.”
Quddus takes his role of art critic very seriously. “As a critic, I stay honest. I try to analyze the work, make sense of it, and find its place in history. I do not use flowery language in my writing. It’s clean, direct. My objective is to make art accessible to ordinary people. One should always write from a point of view,” he says.
“I like all aspects of my work, can’t define which one is my favorite. By definition you are not supposed to enjoy work. It’s serious business. For fun, I read,” he says.
“Everything is connected. You can’t separate art from the country’s general mind-set. Mediocrity is accepted everywhere in Pakistan so why not in Art?” ¢
Lahore, 2006. First published in The Knit-Xtyle Fashion Review – issue 13