A true ustad who painted love and hope

A true ustad who painted love and hope

Sadia Pasha Kamran May 17, 2024
The writer is a Lahore-based academic and an art historian. She is also the author of ‘Bano’s Companion to Feminist Art — Women, Art & Politics in Pakistan’


Dear Ustaad Allah Bux,

Hope this finds you enjoying the landscape of Heavens, of course amongst other promised blessings of the place. But as I know of you, I am sure the chance of painting the heavenly abode would be the ultimate treat for you which you would be doing with the same zest as shown in capturing the homeland in your earthly life. Many artists have opted for landscape painting as a favoured genre to practise and exhibit their creativity. Some tried to develop their understanding of nature, truth and divinity by painting their environment. Some aimed to resolve the representational issues like creating the illusion of 3-D on a 2-D surface of painting through angle aspects and aerial perspective. Others experimented with capturing the fleeting moment, light and time on their canvasses. Yours was a different approach. You were deeply sensitive about the times that you lived in, passionately involved with the idea of nationhood and were romantically involved with the land of Punjab that you picked up as your home.

Today’s generation is perhaps alien to this patriotism and devotion that you people have shown as you preferred to be ‘Pakistani’ while you were equally, perhaps more appreciated and acknowledged in Delhi and Bombay or at least had more professional opportunities in the region that was to be part of Bharat. The prestigious Simla Fine Arts Society Award and Maharaja Patiala’s patronage display such recognition and your status in pre-partition Indian art circles. Your amicable approach towards art as a medium of adventure and investigation allowed you to experiment with diverse mediums, styles and subject matter without being prejudiced towards any religion and ethnicity. Like a true learner and observer, you tried out popular artistic expressions of the times with ease and enthusiasm. By the way, do the custodian angels of the Heavens know of your sobriquet — Krishna painter? Does this affect your status there? Or perhaps you are already in the section where the destined artists are kept alleged with the charge of mocking the creative spirit of nature. I often lay the argument that Allah distinguished man from other creations by breathing His spirit into man and the artists took this creative instinct of the Almighty little more seriously than the rest of us. On the Day of Judgment, if you are asked to put life in your characters, I propose you immediately confess to imitating God’s creations in your paintings with a pure intention of appreciation that must culminate in a realisation that He is inimitable. After all, the rewards of all deeds depend upon intention and if you do not intend to worship the idol and ask it for gifts and graces, making one for aesthetic amusement should not be a problem for the believers. Rather it shall inculcate the feelings of modesty and humility in them and convince them to submit fully to the Supreme power.

On the selection of subjects in your post-1947 paintings, I thank you for keeping the folklore alive in visual arts. The works that illustrate the romances of Heer Ranjha, Sohni Mahiwal and Talism Hoshruba speak immensely of your experience of painting theatre backdrops. In capturing the mood of the group, the ambiance of the surroundings and setting the overall stage to support the storyline these works are reminiscence of Leonardo Di Vinci’s The Last Supper where the composition, placement of figures, facial expressions and the colour palette make frustration, deception and anticipation main subjects of the story and not the Christ, his disciples or the dinner. In this sense, these works of yours become typical romances in themselves. They exhibit your love and respect for your land along with a desperate effort to build a new world onto the ruins of the old one. We as a nation lost too much in the partition of India — our homes, relatives, businesses, culture, history and identity, but you painted love and hope. You captured the sunshine and fragrance that guided us to move on. Much obliged and grateful for your contribution as a first-generation Pakistani artist, for being a true ustad and a truer artist.


May, 2024

Published in The Express Tribune, May 17th, 2024.

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