Lines and Drawings by SADEQUAIN

Lines and drawings by SadequainThis book is in full colour.

The seminal book on Sadequain titled Saga of SADEQUAIN states, “Sadequain’s contribution to the field of arts is enormous, his contribution to the field of literature is immense, and his contribution to the nation is unparalleled and unsurpassed by academic standards or in its monetary value. He did not simply produce ordinary paintings to earn a living, but painted monuments and donated all to mankind. His art was compared to that of Picasso by recognized European art critic in the largest French newspaper, La Figaro; he was declared the greatest modern day poet of Urdu rubai (quatrain) by Indian professor and author in his book titled, Tanqeed-e-Rubai, and the newspaper Khaleej Times declared him responsible for the renaissance of calligraphic art. The number and surface area of his murals exceeds that of Michelangelo and Diego Rivera combined. Subject of many books and focus of doctorate theses, yet Sadequain remains an enigma. People of Pakistan know him, but do not know why they know him. He should be known to the world, but he is not. His story, so compelling and even more so intriguing, has not been told yet.”

Sadequain is arguably the most visible, recognizable, written-about and most talked-about artist of the country. He was prolific and innovative, two mutually exclusive traits. He painted relentlessly for almost 40 years — from the early 1950s until February 10, 1987 — when he passed away at the age of 57 in Karachi. He painted by some estimates more than 15,000 pieces of art, comprised of murals, paintings, drawings, and calligraphies. He introduced awe-inspiring mural art to the country and painted more than 45 gigantic murals in his life, which are spread over Pakistan, India, the Middle East, Europe, and North America. By sheer talent and application, he stamped his own style on his work, which was firmly rooted in his Indo-Persian background and rich cultural heritage. Strong and distinctive lines, shapes, faces, figures, and somber colors are the hallmark of his distinguished artwork that has been pronounced stunning and striking by the best of minds. Dr. Akbar Naqvi, one of the most respected art critics of Pakistan states in his book, IMAGE and IDENTITY, “If Sadequain had done nothing else but only drawings he would still be considered one of the inventors of modern art in the country.” The intellectual genius of Sadequain has impacted the development of modern and contemporary art with unparalleled magnitude. His prolific output of murals, paintings, drawings, calligraphies and poetry convey myriad intellectual, political, social, and amorous messages. It would not be an exaggeration to say that if Sadequain had done nothing else but only murals even then he would have been considered the greatest artist of the region.

His posthumous reputation three decades after he passed away is built upon the solid foundation of innovative and meaningful art along with revolutionary expressionism that many critics consider as constituting the genesis of modern art. For many, Sadequain is considered the artist who carried visual art into a new age in the same way as industrialization and urban development influenced other socio-economical factions of society.

A retrospective collection of Sadequain’s murals, paintings, drawings, and calligraphies is an awe-inspiring experience. Creative and prolific, Sadequain worked tirelessly, his fingers permanently gnarled and reconfigured into the position of holding a paint brush. He claimed that his hand had assumed the shape of inscription of the word Allah in Arabic script.

He traveled widely in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, and North America. Sadequain’s art is a reflection of humanity and nature and their impact on society. This was the subject and purpose of his work that he portrayed with his unique style. His work was ambitious, universal and yet personal, so much that it opened the window to his soul.

So, where did it all begin? After an eventful life, in which by any measure, he had touched the peaks of perfection, Sadequain started to pen his memoirs in a chronological order in 1985. The memoirs were not completed before his death and then they were lost in the shuffle, or most probably stolen, like his paintings were stolen during the fateful night of his death. By appearance, an ordinary man, thin and frail in structure, tall and mighty in stature, but simple and unassuming by nature, his life was a journey of joy, fascinating like fiction, and intriguing like a legend. A simple sartorial image, the shunning of pomp and show and consumerism and the assertion of limited wants defined Sadequain’s persona.

Never a follower, a rule-breaker and a trend-setter, he swam against the current with conviction and vision, and in the wake, rewrote the history of art of the country and what is most extraordinary, the selfless man gave all he could to the nation without asking anything in return — yes, without any compensation. Sadequain often said that he was a content man and had no unfulfilled needs; therefore he did not need anything. His worldly possessions at the height of his stardom were a few pairs of clothing, one worn-out pair of shoes, and a suitcase full of newspaper clippings and bundles of photographs, perhaps a complement to his favourite poet Ghalib’s famous line, Chand tasverein butain, chand haseeno kay khutoot (few photographs and a few letters of the beloved). He often said that when Gandhi died, he left behind only his spectacles, wooden slippers, and a spinning wheel, but he (Sadequain) did not want to leave anything behind so he would no longer be a burden on mother Earth.

Amroha is located about 120 kilometers Southeast of Delhi. A Sufi saint, a migrant from Iran in the 13th century, Syed Muhammad Sharfuddin Shah Wilayat named this small town Amrohu, because of the abundance of aam (mango) and rohu (species of fish), found in the local bodies of water. The name of the town eventually transformed to Amroha with the passage of time. There are other historical explanations for the name of the town but they are not discussed in this book. This small town has been the ancestral home to many luminaries of national prominence; their numbers being disproportionate to the small population of the town, and giving credence to the famous line by Iqbal, agar nam ho to yeh matti bari zarkhez hai saqi (if irrigated, this land will bear plentiful fruit). Majority of the population of Amroha, referred as Sadat-e-Amroha, is direct descendant of Syed Muhammad Sharfuddin Shah Wilayat, tracing lineage to Imam Naqi and thus having a surname of Naqvi. All Naqvis are also Syed, direct descendants of Hazrat Ali-e-Murtaza. Until the middle of the 20th century, it was customary for the Sadat to marry within the family to preserve the Syed bloodline.

Sadequain’s parents, Syed Sibtain Ahmed Naqvi and Fatima Khatoon had seven children, but only four survived beyond the age of puberty. Syed Kazeman Ahmed Naqvi was the eldest son, followed by Syed Hasnain Ahmed Naqvi, and then Syed Sadequain Ahmed Naqvi followed by a sister Sadequa Khatoon. Tragedy hounded the family at regular intervals; first Sadequa passed away of a sudden death after a short illness at the age of 14 in 1946, then Hasnain Ahmed passed away in 1955, at the age of 34, and later, Kazeman Ahmed passed away in 1972 after a short bout with lung cancer, at a relatively young age of 53. After the death of his brothers, Sadequain was the sole guardian and supporter of his parents, two widowed sisters-in-law, and their six children. In the next few years, he lost both his parents, and then Nasreen Fatima, Kazeman’s daughter and Sadequain’s niece. In spite of the tragic losses, he maintained a brave face and provided for the family beyond their needs. However, the losses left Sadequain with deep scars that compelled him to drown himself into inebriation. His lifestyle now was not suitable to be around the widowed sisters-in-law and young children in the house. Sadequain needed escape from the suffocating misery and to concentrate on channeling his creative urge; and his favorite brew provided a convenient escape for him. He soon found himself constantly hounded by caretakers, who sensed his vulnerability and took full advantage of it. On the pretense of keeping him company and masquerading as care givers, most walked away with his precious artwork in large volumes. Some even used to chase him clutching painting materials and make him use it at the first opportune moment. When sober, Sadequain exposed these characters in his rubai:

Tasveer woh laya jo bana kar mangi
Han doosti kuch aur barha kar mangi
Sab ko yeh batanay keh khareedi usnay
Thori si musawwir ko pila kar mangi

Pretender begged for the painting freshly done
Oh yes, hypocrite posed and nagged for more
To lie that he purchased the painting for cash
Boozed the painter and begged for more

Kismat meri qatray say gohar tak na hui
Meri, meray gahak pay nazar tak na hui
Yaroon nay is andaaz say becha mujh ko
Mein bik gaya aur mujh ko khabar tak na hui

My drudgery didn’t bear fruit for me
Was not vigilant of the mugger
Embezzlers hatched thievery in a manner such
I was robbed unaware of pretentious heister

Now that twenty eight years have passed since Sadequain passed away, art market is flooded with his art for sale. The same priceless art that he considered a sacrilege to sell, is being hawked at rock bottom prices by the ingrate vultures driven by greed and lust for money. What is even worse, a platoon of carpetbaggers has been passing third rate counterfeits with impunity in the name of Sadequain. Whereas their rapacity has brought great deal of harm to Sadequain’s reputation and hurt his brand, it does however validate Iqbal’s words baich khatay hein jo aslaaf kay madfan tum ho (you are the kind who even hawk the remains of their ancestors). Many beneficiaries of Sadequain’s generosity have told me that when he gave them a piece of artwork he reminded them, “I am giving this to you because I know you will not sell it.” But the same carnivorous crowd succumb to lechery at the expense of Sadequain’s remains. The desecration reached criminal proportions in case of three art galleries that were established in the name of Sadequain by government institutions in Lahore (1974), Islamabad (1981), and Karachi (1987), but soon after he passed away the galleries started to close down one by one and in each case the artwork in the galleries was misappropriated without leaving a trace. The news of the outrageous fate of all three galleries and the thievery committed in them has been widely reported in the media, but of no avail.

Ironically, most of Sadequain’s work has not been professionally catalogued. Not by any professional art historian, nor by individual or institutional possessors of his art. One cannot find a comprehensive collection of Sadequain’s murals, paintings, drawings, or calligraphies in one complete volume for individual genres. The only books on Sadequain’s drawings that were ever published in the past were published by Sadequain himself (the number of books is unknown, and how many still exist is unsure) in his lifetime. One important book which the SADEQUAIN Foundation has sourced for this book is titled SADEQUAIN published by Mazhar Yusuf in 1966. A second book which SADEQUAIN Foundation has sources for this book was published in 1970 which contained approximately 100 drawings. Both books mentioned above were concise and published in limited volumes and are now scarce. As usual Sadequain never made these books available for sale and gave them away to his visitors.

This book by SADEQUAIN Foundation titled Lines and Drawings by SADEQUAIN is the first comprehensive collection of Sadequain’s more than three hundred (300) drawings. It is a result of more than four years of research and discovery of his drawings spread from Japan, Singapore, Pakistan, India, Middle East, Europe, and North America. Most of the images, about 95%, are scanned from various publications, brochures, magazines, internet, newspapers, from the images people sent to the SADEQUAIN Foundation for authentication, and from the sales announcements of his work.

It is hoped that this book will be helpful in analyzing the imagery in Sadequain’s drawings and establishing the links to appropriate historical and cultural context. Its empirical research and textual contents are balanced to address the sensitivities that attempt to compare and contrast arbitrary and loaded concepts.