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Letter From Karachi (from Printmaking Today Vol 3 No 4)

A brief survey of printmaking in Pakistan
by Naiza Khan

For the printmaker the range of possible materials, the surface of contact between the artist and his environment are immense. Thus the techniques of thought and method of access to the im-agination1 are vital and abundant. But it is only through need to express new forms that we explore the means to convey them.

Printmaking in Pakistan is struggling to establish itself as a legitimate means of expression. I respond to this from the position of a young printmaker who has recently come to Karachi. I propose to give a brief summary of the development of the medium in Pakistan, of the conditions for printmakers in terms of access to materials, and of the general public's response to printmaking.

Lahore, the traditional cultural capital of Pakistan, has two of the largest art establishments2 in the country and, hence, a greater support network for art activity. The printmaking department of Punjab University was founded in 1940 by Ana Molka Ahmed, of Russian and Polish descent (1917-1994). She received her artistic training at St Martin's and then at the Royal College of Art, both in London, where she met and married Sheikh Ahmed. Lithography and relief printing were practised until 1964, when an intaglio press was introduced. Lithography stones had been acquired from the Bible Society during the late thirties and script is still visible on some of these stones, which have not been ground and printed for over six decades. The print studio is now run by Chazanfar Ali (b. 1941), an accomplished and committed printmaker.

History was a Court Dancer
by Anwar Saeed
Photoetching

The National College of Art, also in Lahore, established a printmaking department in the fifties. With growing demands by students, the facilities of lithography, photo etching, scre-enprinting and relief printing have expanded, with a Brand press being donated by the America Cultural Centre in 1985. The department was set up initially by Ustad Lateef Chughtai, but really took off in 1985 with the efforts of Naazish Ataullah, Mshar Afshar and Anwar Saeed. Sabah Hussain, also based in Lahore, runs workshops in printmaking and paper making. She studied in Kyoto Japan, for four years, where she did her Masters and worked in Tomikichiro's atelier.

Karachi has a number of art schools, which are establishing substantial print departments. Meher Afroze, one of the senior printmakers, also has her studio in Karachi. The city has about ten intaglio presses, five of which are in private studios. However, there are no non-commercial lithography or relief presses in use, or printmaking co-operatives for artists to ex-periment in an atmosphere of collaboration.

Jamal Shah did his Masters in printmaking at the Slade in London in 1988. He set up the Fine Art department at the University of Balochistan and went on to establish two new art schools in Islamabad. His prints have vitality and energy which reflect his interest in sculpture.

Post-partition was a time of great cultural transition; it was about trying to redefine a new identity for a nation, simultaneously distinguishing itself from an identifiably Indian culture and striving to be modern. This dilemma affected writers, philosophers and artists and has yet to be resolved. Traditional printmaking techniques were successfully explored by Abdur Rehman Chughtai (1899-1975) and Sadequain (1930- 1987). Although there was a strong Western influence in the form of cubism and abstract art in painting, there was very little awareness of the Print Renaissance in the West.

Direct influence from the West came in the form of sponsored workshops, the first of which was held in 1967 by the American Michael Ponce-1e-Leon. It created great enthusiasm amongst leading artists such as Bashir Mirza (b. 1941), Saeed Akhta (b. 1938), Shahid Sajjad (b. 1937) and Ahmed Khan (b. 1939). This was followed in 1986 by workshops with Bartolomeu dos Santos, from the Slade Print Department in London and later Peter Daglish RE. In 1992-1993 Walter Crump, from the US, came on a Fulbright scholarship and taught for a year at the National College of Art.

These workshops played a vital role in extending the knowledge base to a younger generation of artists and began to establish an integrity and independence for the original print. They gave an essential two-way link between printmaking activities abroad and the traditional indigenous importance given to works on paper.

However, despite isolated periods of activity, the full poten-tial of this medium has yet to be exploited. There is very little government funding and much is done through personal initia-tion. One would imagine that prints should be economically viable, but artists address themselves to an audience with an ambivalent attitude towards the idea of the editioned print.

One of the main problems is access to equipment and materials. There is a dearth of quality paper and inks for intaglio printing. Etching grounds have to be made from the raw materials and acids are not guaranteed to be pure. Some hand-made paper is bought from India, and Arches and Rives are sold intermittently. Artists are now making recycled paper that is heavier and more absorbent, but this cannot fulfil the demand for paper from professional artists. Mohammed Kazim, for example, has been making paper from sugar cane pulp. This technique is an integral part of his relief prints.

These problems can, however, be overcome. The real challenge is to create an awareness of the unique quality of the print, to extend printmaking to a broader base of artists through group workshops and art schools. Lala Rukh, based in Lahore, has approached this problem from a different angle. She has set up photo screenprinting workshops in kaachi aabadis (low in-come areas) to teach women this technique from a commercial point of view. But would we call this 'Art'? I believe this would popularise the art form, make it more democratic and accessible, as did the Ukiyoe prints in Japan or Possada's prints in Mexico in the twenties.

Life Bin
by Afshar Malik
intaglio and relief

Two artists making significant work are teaching and working in Lahore. Afshar Malik graduated from the Slade printmaking department in London. His intricately and densely woven images convey a sense of history and time flowing across the page; the plates are etched and then printed in relief. Anwar Saeed's photo etchings juxtapose Arabic text, fragments of min-iatures with parts of ancient Hindu sculptures. Each disparate element brings with it a history. One gets a strange sense of time, as if objects used from various periods of existence had been compressed and subjected to the same time continuum. The work attempts to express a whole civilisation that is part of a modern identity.

The assumption that artists had to have a recognisable style prevented the regeneration of their work with vigorous ex-perimentation. With more cross-fertilisation of ideas and processes, printmaking can offer a direction out of this crisis. My aspirations for greater activity in this area are immense. The inherent diversity of this medium is a parallel to the complexity of ideas and forms in an environment that is constantly chang-ing and developing, where our experience is constantly shifting.


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