Treasures of Time by Sadequain

Treasures of time by SadequainIn an interview Sadequain was asked by the insinuating reporter why he was attracted to the powerful and traced the way to corridors of powers. Sadequain’s curt response was that he was never attracted to the corridors of power and on the contrary, it was the corridors of power which chased him. To prove Sadequain’s point one of the headlines of a newspaper put it aptly, “Sadequain is a showman because he has something to show.”

In the newspaper, Friday Times of September 21, 2007, journalist Khalid Hasan wrote, “He was humble, and yet if a rich man or a high official tried to throw around his weight or pull rank, Sadequain made it a point to put him in his place. Noor-ul-Hassan Jaffrey, a senior Civil Service of Pakistan (CSP) officer, who later, along with his wife, the poet Ada Jaffrey, became close friends of Sadequain, once went on an official visit to Mangla, where Sadequain was painting his giant powerhouse mural. Jaffrey was one of the big tops in the Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA). Sadequain was told to be ready for Jaffrey’s arrival. When Jaffrey arrived, Sadequain was nowhere to be found. He had simply vanished. He reappeared after Jaffrey was safely gone. That was Sadequain’s ego, but it only came into play when someone tried to gain his attention because of rank or money.”

In this day and age when yes-men ride the coattails of the high and mighty, Sadequain defied all norms. But genius of a person eventually finds its expression. “You cannot suppress a genius for very long,” Sadequain used to say. Sadequain’s genius found its expression in his work. The book Mystic Expressions – an Odyssey to Exaltation with Ghalib, Iqbal, Faiz and Sadequain rightfully describes “Sadequain was arguably an embodiment of the spirit of Picasso, grandeur of Michelangelo, poetic prowess of Omar Khayyam, and calligraphic skills of Yaqoot.”

The question I am trying to answer is that how did Sadequain get engaged at the State Bank of Pakistan in the most visible, highly ambitious, and uniquely prestigious artistic endeavor in the history of Pakistan. Not to deviate from the specific subject of this book, mention must be made that the path to the monumental undertaking at the State Bank of Pakistan was paved by many other equally improbable events in Sadequain’s life such as his first solo exhibition in Karachi in 1955 at the residence of H.S. Sohrawardi, Pakistan’s fifth Prime Minister. It would have been interesting if an art historian had researched how a young migrant from India, belonging to middle class with no known connections with people in high places managed to climb this corridor of power.

After the initial foray into the drawing room of H.S. Sohrawardi, crowded with the movers and shakers of politics and business, Sadequain found himself in the limelight again in 1957 at his retrospective inaugurated by the Prime Minister of Pakistan, which was held at the historic Frere Hall in Karachi. Naturally the event was a major attraction for the high and mighty. Interestingly, Sadequain came full circle in 1986, after thirty years, back to the Frere Hall to work on the stupendous ceiling mural titled, Arz-o- Samawaat, which proved to be his last undertaking before he passed away on February 10, 1987.

Prior to executing the collection of artistic marvels at the State Bank, Sadequain had already made a name for himself. He painted a large mural for the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority at the Karachi Airport, painted two murals at the Jinnah Hospital in Karachi, painted numerous paintings and a large mural titled Smuggler for the Pakistan Customs Department. He was awarded Tamgha-e-Imtiaz by the President of Pakistan in March 1960; he won the first prize in the All Pakistan National Exhibition of Art in July 1960 for his painting titled Man at Sandspit. In December 1960 he was invited by the French Committee of the International Association of Plastic Arts, where he later participated and won the award Laureate Biennale de Paris. This is an abbreviated list of works and achievements within a few years, but it gives a good measure of Sadequain’s eventful life.

It could not be verified how the State Bank of Pakistan managed to interest Sadequain in painting several murals for the bank; whether the bank provisioned for the murals in the original design or was it an after-thought? Did the bank solicit proposals from prospective artists or was it a foregone conclusion that Sadequain would paint the murals in the most prestigious structure in the country at that time? These are interesting questions, but they remain unanswered because of lack of documentation of art history.

When the new headquarter building of State Bank of Pakistan was constructed in 1961, with several modern and unique features such as escalators and a roof-top garden, the search to identify a capable and accomplished artist to adorn the vast halls and wide corridors of the impressive building culminated on Sadequain. His recognition abroad, his recognition as the most distinguished artist of the country, and his repertoire of large murals, perhaps helped to make the task of the decision makers a matter of natural selection. Fortunately, for the decision makers, Sadequain, who was at that time shuttling back and forth between Karachi and Paris at regular intervals, agreed to undertake the challenge. It was a challenge because he only had three months to complete about a dozen pieces of art, including the gigantic mural titled Treasures of Time.

According to the sketchy historical notes found in several publications, Sadequain returned from Paris to Karachi during the summer of 1961, and practically adopted the State Bank as his residence from August to October 1961. He would only go to his home, Sibtain Manzil, on occasions to take a bath and change his clothes; otherwise he worked round the clock on new ideas and their execution. Later in his life, living at the venues where he executed large murals became his routine. Places such as the Mangla Dam, Lahore Museum, Frere Hall, Aligarh Muslim University, and Banaras Hindu University are to name a few which had the honor to host the genius artist.

Besides the imposing mural titled Treasures of Time, which is the primary subject of this book, Sadequain executed numerous other pieces for the State Bank which merit distinction on their own. A second mural titled Laboratory of the Universe (approximate dimensions 35 x 6 feet) is a generic depiction of the bounties of earth and the heavens and man’s quest to discover the hidden treasures on land, under the water, and in the skies. Human figures are depicted unearthing the buried treasures while others are gazing toward the skies scoping their extraterrestrial ambitions. What defined this mural was the manner in which Sadequain encapsulated earth’s ecosystem with the genius of his brush, using primarily earth tone shades and imparting a course texture through the length and breadth of the canvas.

Another large painting is titled Industry and Agriculture (approximate dimensions 12 x 8 feet). It is completely different in composition compared to Treasures of Time and the Laboratory of the Universe. Whereas the mural Treasures of Time depicts recognizable images of scholars from around the world and Laboratory of the Universe depicts generic human characters, but in Industry and Agriculture Sadequain chose to employ line work and calligraphic strokes to assemble characters and landscape to depict industrial complex and agricultural fields. The three large pieces of art done at the State Bank’s Karachi office are a testimony to the unlimited diversity of Sadequain’s palette.

At a later date, Sadequain painted another mural titled Industry and Agriculture II at the Peshawar office of the State Bank. This mural has now been transferred to the State Bank’s Museum in Karachi to consolidate all Sadequain’s works done for the State Bank under one roof in Sadequain Gallery at the State Bank of Pakistan Museum in Karachi.

In addition to the three very large oil paintings, Sadequain sculpted several copper-on-wood collages. The most magnificent of them was titled Chariot of Time. As the title suggests, the collage shows a chariot riding on the wheals made in the shape of coins and pulled by speed and grace. The riders are the humanity full of inspiration, hope, dedication, and vigor. Several other collages were made with singular images of humans or animals.

The unique collection of copper and wood collages represents the most remarkable experiment by Sadequain, which he executed only for the State Bank and never attempted again in future. Since the entire body of work consisting of oil paintings and the collages were one of the few exceptions when Sadequain accepted compensation for his work, they are the exclusive property of the State Bank of Pakistan.

It is of historical importance to mention at this juncture that the SADEQUAIN Foundation was approached by an individual buyer for authentication of a copper-on-wood collage which appeared very similar to the copper-on-wood collages at the State Bank. The provenance of this collage stated that Sadequain had presented this collage to the seller in 1965, several years after he had initially made them in 1961 for the State Bank.

The inauguration of the State Bank’s new building was a grandiose affair. Numerous dignitaries and several heads of central banks from around the world were invited for the occasion. The president of Pakistan inaugurated the building with great fanfare. The gigantic mural Treasures of Time, which presented a universal theme by depicting highly regarded scholars from around the world, became the center of attention for the international audience.

Sadequain for the love of it even prepared several marketing collaterals for the event, some of which became most sought after collectables for the attendees. Among the collaterals was an amazing brochure in which Sadequain sketched the impressive building of the State Bank by replacing the vertical and horizontal columns of the beams which frame the windows by continuously inscribing Bank Daulat Pakistan in the shape of the beams. It is an imaginative and attention-grabbing creation that absorbs the attention of its viewers. Sadequain also designed the menu for the formal dinner by incorporating free hand sketch of a restaurant scene.

It is safe to assume that the originals of all ancillary materials have not been preserved. Fortunately, their reproductions are available for purchase now at the State Bank’s museum.

Treasures of Time was initially mounted in the impressive library of the State Bank. At some point in time, the library was disbanded and converted to canteen and the mural was disassemble into its separate sections and placed in storage. It was transported to the Mohatta Palace in 2002 for the exhibition titled SADEQUAIN: The Holy Sinner. The mural at that time was missing a rectangular piece from its upper left corner. News on the street was that the missing piece had to be removed as it was blocking the outlet exhaust of an air conditioning duct and it was a decision between the duct and the mural’s corner. The duct won. After the conclusion of the exhibition in March 2004, the mural returned to storage in the State Bank with visible signs of deterioration. It remained in storage until 2011 when it was touched up and the missing corner was repainted by a hired artist and it was placed in the State Bank Museum on the mezzanine floor which is named Sadequain Gallery to pay a befitting tribute to the great man.