Quddus Mirza

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

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“Medi­oc­rity is accepted every­where in Pak­istan so why not in Art?” ques­tions Qud­dus Mirza, 7.5 out of 10 based on 2 rat­ings