Mystic Expressions by Sadequain

Mystic expressions by SadequainIn a November 26, 2009 article in the Pakistani publication NEWSLINE, a prominent art personality stated: “I don’t think 30-35 years down the line the youngsters will know who Sadequain was, because his work won’t be exhibited then.” The statement was hurtful, but sadly may come true. In a manner similar to the cases of a few fortunate poets, who are immortalized by prominent singers, an artist’s work has to be kept alive by catalogs, exhibitions, and museums. If the history of Pakistan’s departed artists is any indication of what is to be expected in the future, then Sadequain’s future is at stake. The response of artist Ismail Gulgee, when asked why he felt compelled to establish his own museum in his lifetime, was a naked truth, “After I am gone no one will do it.” And then he quoted Sadequain’s example. In Sadequain’s case, in spite of producing thousands of pieces of artwork, the locations of only a few hundred are known now, and only a few hundred have ever been documented in books, magazines, or newspapers. It begs the obvious question: what ever happened to the rest of his work?

The SADEQUAIN Foundation has been engaged in exhaustive research to locate Sadequain’s murals, paintings, calligraphies and drawings, and to this day continues to do so. Based on Sadequain’s own quotes, analysis of historical notes on Sadequain’s work and exhibitions, countless interviews, and the voluntary information from scores of people —many of them possess Sadequain’s works — the Foundation places the number of Sadequain’s artworks at around 15,000. It is common knowledge that who so ever approached Sadequain, was rewarded with a memorabilia and seldom left empty-handed. Newspapers reported that his exhibitions held in Lahore during the 1970s attracted as many as 5,000 visitors per day. If we were to assume that only a fraction of these visitors managed to acquire a collectable from Sadequain, even then the numbers are dizzying.

Sadequain is arguably one of the few artists of the country whose name is associated with specific pieces of his works, in a manner similar to, for example, Tolstoy’s name being associated with War and Peace. In Sadequain’s case, a mere mention of the mural on the ceiling of the Lahore Museum, or the murals titled “Saga of Labor” and “Treasures of Time,” or the landmark inscription of “Sura-e-Rehman” in Sadequain’s distinct calligraphic style, directly links these works to his name. He is not considered just an ordinary muralist, but the one with unique distinction of having painted the mural on the ceiling of the Lahore Museum, or he was not simply a calligrapher, but a calligrapher, who inscribed, for the first time, the Sura-e-Rehman in his own distinct script. His name is permanently associated with several other famous works. Sadequain’s portfolio has been partially cataloged in newspapers, magazines, and art books. His chronological biographical data included in the largest art-book ever published in Pakistan, titled, SADEQUAIN: The Holy Sinner, clearly provides the total count of the paintings that should have been included in this book of illustrations based on the poetry of Ghalib, Iqbal and Faiz. But the whereabouts of most of these significant pieces of Sadequain’s portfolio are unknown. A few exceptions are saved at the Pakistan National Council of the Arts in Islamabad and the Lahore Museum. In addition, one illustration of Ghalib’s poetry and three illustrations of Faiz’s poetry were discovered by the SADEQUAIN Foundation at private residences.

In its edition of August 2007, the English magazine Herald published a list of 60 heroes of Pakistan in 60 years of Pakistan’s existence. Sadequain was included in that list. He, however, personified the statement of F. Scott Fitzgerald, “Show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy.” Sadequain was indeed a true Pakistani hero and also a tragedy of Shakespearian proportions. He is the only artist from the sub-continent whose murals and calligraphies are on public display across the border in the two warring countries. How significant it is that no other Pakistani artist is on public display in India or no Indian artist is on public display in Pakistan. Private collectors are a different matter — money can buy anything for sale — but to be on display at public places demands different dynamics of a higher order. On the part of the public institution, it is an acknowledgement of the artist’s prestige, imagination, skill, stamina, resources, and a lot more. In his lifetime, Sadequain painted more than 45 large murals, but more than 15 of these masterpieces have disappeared without leaving a trace. Similar is the case with his calligraphies. He used to say that if he placed his calligraphies end-to-end, they would stretch for miles. But where have they all gone?

This book is an attempt to salvage what is available at the moment. The SADEQUAIN Foundation regularly receives requests from scholars, professors, doctoral candidates, university and college students, as well as school students, who are engaged in research about Sadequain’s life and work. Dr. Pirzada Qasim, Vice Chancellor of Karachi University, stated in the newspaper DAWN in 2005 that, Sadequain’s poetry should be the subject of research at the highest scholarly levels. Hameed Haroon of the newspaper DAWN also made a similar statement about Sadequain’s art. If art captures the pulse of the nation, then Sadequain had his finger on this pulse. During the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, in foreign lands, Sadequain’s art was considered one of the most effective ambassadors of the nation. Though Sadequain is no longer with us, his work still is. He used to say that he did not want his work to be locked in institutions, palaces, or residences. He wanted his art to be displayed in public for all to see. But that is not the case now, not even close. His labor of love is locked behind closed doors and is decaying rapidly. If not preserved physically and cataloged professionally, the fear expressed in November 2009 by the prominent art personality may indeed come true.

Since its inception in 2007, the SADEQUAIN Foundation reached out to many institutions and countless individuals through all possible means of communications, to seek the whereabouts of Sadequain’s work. The focus of the search was always to discover anything and everything, wherever possible. The most effective source of outreach was the Foundation’s website. The visitors to the website were placed on the mailing list of the Foundation’s monthly news page, which was regularly e-mailed to thousands of recipients. Many volunteers provided useful clues, which helped the Foundation to collect the records of more than 1,800 pieces of Sadequain’s works by the time this book went to print. This figure of 1,800, although being large, only represents about 15% of Sadequain’s total output. So the search goes on.

The SADEQUAIN Foundation plans to publish a major portion of this collection in a retrospective catalog raisonné in the future. But out of the records that have so far been collected by the Foundation, only a fraction constitutes the work pertaining to the subject of this book, i.e. illustrations of the poetry of Ghalib, Iqbal, and Faiz. This book consists of 81 images, but this total could easily have been 300. The Foundation made a decision to proceed with what was available at the moment, and in the future, if other relevant pieces became available, they will be added in the later revisions of this book.

This publication contains a retrospective essay, titled Mystic Expressions, which provides an insight into Sadequain’s meteoric ascendancy to an iconic artist and a poet. This essay also attempts to explain why Sadequain was gravitated to illustrating the poetry of Ghalib, Iqbal, and Faiz, the most esteemed poets of the Urdu language. Being an accomplished poet himself, Sadequain could relate to the literature with equal ease as he did to the arts. He was a born artist and a natural poet.

There are four sections in this book dedicated to the three poets; Ghalib, Iqbal and Faiz, and the fourth section dedicated to Sadequain. Each section includes the corresponding paintings by Sadequain.

The section on Ghalib’s poetry contains 25 verses, each inscribed in Urdu by Sadequain, along with its transliteration, translation, and illustration. The corresponding paintings are shown on the opposite page of the text. Sadequain painted a total of 50 illustrations based on Ghalib’s poetry, but only 25 were located by the SADEQUAIN Foundation that are included in this book.

Iqbal’s section is comprised of 16 paintings and 14 sections of each of the two murals, each section of the mural measuring 4 x 9 feet, based on Iqbal’s poetry. For each of the paintings and murals, their transliteration, translation and illustration are inscribed on the opposite page of the corresponding painting.

There are 12 paintings included in this book based on Faiz’s poetry. This section also includes transliteration, translation, and illustration corresponding to each painting. Sadequain painted total of 45 illustrations based on Faiz’s poetry. However, the whereabouts of the missing paintings are unknown.