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Framings of a National Tradition

Nadeem Omar Tarar Available online: 04 Oct 2011

To cite this article: Nadeem Omar Tarar (2011): Framings of a National Tradition, Third Text, 25:5, 577-593 To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09528822.2011.608968

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Third Text, Vol. 25, Issue 5, September, 2011, 577 593

Framings of a National Tradition

Discourse on the Reinvention of Miniature Painting in Pakistan
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Nadeem Omar Tarar

1. See Percy Brown, Indian Painting under the Mughals, A.D. 1550 to A.D. 1750, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1924; Pramod Chandra, On the Study of Indian Art, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1983.

The contemporary invention of traditional Indian manuscript painting as an index of a national art form rests on an under-nuanced view that a traditional medium exists simply as a transhistorical object readily available to be retrieved from history. The notion of an unchanging tradition thriving in royal ateliers as well as in artisanal workshops used to invoke a singular national identity of miniature painting in Pakistan is an outcome of nationalist history, which traces its stylistic evolution and iconographic variations according to the political chronology of Indian ruling dynasties and patterns of feudal patronage in different regions.1 From its imperial origins in Timurid kitabkhanas (royal book-making workshops) and Safavidi courts, Persian painting arrived in Mughal ateliers, transforming yet retaining its essence under the inuence of European pictorial conventions, as well as those of indigenous-Hindu aesthetics. As if it needed the hothouse of the Mughal court to ourish, manuscript painting declined with the fall of the Mughal Empire in India in the eighteenth century, dispersing the artists, who took refuge in smaller regional kingdoms in Rajasthan and the hill states of Punjab. Under British rule, it degenerated into a pictorial art for the pleasure of the British elite and the Indian bourgeoisie, and it was only due to the advent of revivalist movements in Indian art in the late nineteenth century that manuscript painting reasserted itself as the traditional art form. What holds this Orientalist nationalist narrative together is an uncritical subscription to the sociology of the unbroken life of Indian painting in South Asia. It is only by policing the borders of an objectied genre, which is always already locked in an ageless past, that one can begin to talk about an Indian miniature tradition, whereby a variety of regional styles caught in the same logic are seen as permutations of its timeless essence. By reading the workshop practice of copying as a symptom of either an enervated culture or one that does not distinguish clearly between the past and the present, Indian painting has been consigned
Third Text ISSN 0952-8822 print/ISSN 1475-5297 online # Third Text (2011) http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09528822.2011.608968


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to a world in which time has no meaning.2 Given the static notion of time attributed to Indian manuscript painting, it is pertinent to unpack the relationship of Indian manuscript painting to the past, envisaged in the idea of a tradition, rather than assuming it as a matter of logical deduction. In the course of its institutional career in South Asia, manuscript painting has moved from eminence in the Mughal court as the medieval art of book illustration to its degeneration as a declasse handcraft in the British colonial period; its ascendancy in the post-independence period as the traditional ne art of Pakistani Islamic culture was followed by a postmodern renaissance as contemporary art practice, which to use Homi Bhabhas words is the re-evaluation of tradition to the extent that tradition is no longer opposed to modernity. This history offers penetrating clues to the taxonomic shifts that have taken place in the construction of Indian painting in the past ve hundred years.3


By the dawn of twentieth century the two pioneering new Orientalists, E B Havell and A K Coomaraswamy, had invented an ontology of the unbroken life of manuscript painting in India by painstakingly reconstructing the continuous process of unfolding of various schools of painting, which had evolved over time by accepting and injecting stylistic inuences from one another.4 In this chain of transmissions the provenance of manuscript painting was made with reference to courtly patronage which, in default of individual inscriptions, stood as the only methodological option through which it could be historicised. In the process of the invention of a tradition, implying a continuity with a suitable historical past that framed the discursive formation of Indian manuscript tradition in India and Pakistan in the last quarter of the twentieth century, modern Indian artists such as Abanindranath Tagore, and Abdur Rehman Chughtai were active contributors to the neo-Orientalist discourses through their art practice as well as scholarly writings. Working with a mandate to discover an authentic tradition of Indian ne arts, and in active deance of British colonial aesthetic judgements that found scant merit in Indian painting and sculpture, there was little consensus in the Orientalist ranks as to the conguration of a suitable historic past. It was Havells discovery of the aesthetic merits of Persian and Mughal manuscript paintings, though, that from 1896 obliged him to collect, with missionary zeal, specimens of Indo-Persian manuscripts for the Calcutta Government School of Arts gallery, to serve as models for emulation by Indian students. For him, it was only when the Persian element in Mughal art was transformed by the greater force of pre-existing Hindu traditions that Mughal paintings could qualify as a wholly original, Indian school of painting.5 In many ways his successor Coomaraswamy went a step further, with his discovery and study of medieval Rajput paintings in 1916, in arguing that this Hindu religious genre of painting was projected as more

2. See Daniel Ehnbom, The Copy in Mughal and Rajput Painting, conference paper, College Art Association, New York, 1996, unpublished. 3. See Shahzia Sikander in conversation with Homi K Bhabha at http://www. shahziasikander.com/ essay03.html 4. E B Havell, A Handbook of Indian Art, John Murray, London, 1927; K Coomaraswamy, Introduction To Indian Art, Kessinger Publishing, Whitesh, Montana, 2007 5. Tapati Guha Thakurta, Orientalism, Nationalism and Reconstruction of Indian Art in Calcutta, in Catherine B Asher and Thomas R Metcalf, eds, Perceptions of South Asias Visual Past, Oxford and IBP, New Delhi, 1994, p 51


6. Ibid, p 51. 7. Marcella C Sirhandi, Painting in Pakistan: 1947 1997, Arts and the Islamic World 32, special issue, 50 Years of Art in Pakistan 8. Geeta Kapur, When was Modernism: Essays on Contemporary Cultural Practice in India, Tulika, New Delhi, 2000.

purely Indian than Mughal court painting and could be placed within an unbroken line of an Indian art tradition that stretched back to Ajanta.6 Chughtai entered the debate at a later stage, when the revivalist movement in Indian art had began to harden into orthodoxy, to mark his subject position in the delineation of a suitable historic past.7 Although his early work tries to synthesise multiple styles of paintings from the Indian historic past he was keenly aware of the need to create a Mughal-inspired sensibility. Claiming Persian descent from the architects of the Taj Mahal, he invented his relationship to tradition by claiming an unmediated link to Mughal and Persian manuscript paintings. The Orientalist discourses on Indian visual traditions constituted historically fragmented and culturally contested elds of aesthetic resistance, increasingly intertwined with Swadeshi politics (meaning self-sufciency, one of the principles adopted by the Indian Independence movement) and cultural nationalism in the early decades of the twentieth century. As critic Geeta Kapur has stated, the discourse on tradition and modernity in India can never be fully understood without considering the struggle and ideology of the nationalist agenda.8 If, to some degree, it is fair to say that if Abanindranath Tagore and Abanpathis (followers of Abanindranath) of the Bengal school invented a uniquely indigenous tradition of Indian art which became synonymous with the independence movement, then Chughtai and his coterie from the Punjab school of artists self-consciously chose to invent an Islamic cosmopolitanism in the service of Muslim nationalism, aligning with the cause of the Muslim independence movement in India. That said, I should enter a caveat here. One must be careful in reading too narrowly a play of communal politics into the struggle for the mastery of Indias past along the lines of inter-religious conict. Tagore had drawn on Mughal paintings much earlier than Chughtai; his Passing of Shah Jehan, for which he was awarded a medal at the Delhi Darbar exhibition of 1903, can be cited as case in point. Painted in oil on wood, the work is widely known for its successful evocation of emotion and held as a masterpiece of modern Indian art. The artists empathy with the deposed Muslim King, who is dying in despair with the lonely gure of his daughter at his feet, watched over by the Taj Mahal in the background, is not coloured by his religious beliefs. Likewise, if Chughtai illustrated the verses of Omar Khayyam, a twelfth-century Persian poet, for the Indian Empire Exhibition of 1924, so did Roop Krishna, an Abanpathi and scion of leading Hindu booksellers in Lahore. The cultural formations of Indian art history are far too complex and overdetermined to be conned to a national register. Vishakha Desais exhibition catalogue essay Conversation with Tradition, intended to provide a cultural introduction to two artists from India and Pakistan, Nilima Sheikh and Shazia Sikander respectively, offers a teleological reading of Indian history inspired by nationalist and religious imagination. Citing Chughtai as the cultural antecedent to Pakistani artists, she reads Chughtais assertion of Islamic identity as a direct response to the aftermath of the partition of Bengal. In her account, he came to the Bengal school in 1905, after the partition of the state into East and West Bengal, and highlighted the divisions between the Hindu and Muslim identities through his work. He continued to focus on this

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9. Conversations with Traditions: Nilima Sheikh and Shahzia Sikander, exhibition catalogue, Asia Society, New York, 2001, interview by Vishakha Desai 10. Abdul Rehman Chughtai, Lahore Ka Dabistan-eMusswari, Chughtai Museum Trust, Lahore, 1979 11. Iftikhar Dadi, Miniature Painting as Muslim Cosmopolitanism, ISIM Review 18, autumn 2006; and Dadi, Modernism and the Art of Muslim South Asia (Islamic Civilization and Muslim Networks), Chapel Hill, 2010 12. Abduallah Chughtai quoted in Wazir Agha, A. R. Chughtai: Personality and Art, Lahore, 1980, p 58. 13. Lionel Heath, Examples of Indian Art at the British Empire Exhibition 1924, India Society, London, 1924, p x 14. Abigail S McGowan, All that is Rare, Characteristic or Beautiful, in Design and the Defense of Tradition in Colonial India, 1851 1903, Journal of Material Culture, vol 10, no 263, 2005

after he returned to Lahore, his birthplace, and had a major impact on the development of miniature painting in Pakistan.9 Notwithstanding the factual error, as in 1905 Chughtai, who was born in 1896, was barely nine years old, her reading of Chughtais identity politics in communal terms feeds into the ideological dictates of the two-nation theory. Chughtais encounter with tradition, which began in the years preceding his pan-Indian success in the second decade of the twentieth century, was fuelled by his personal ambition to carve a niche for himself and cannot be seen as a reection of Hindu Muslim conict engendered by the aftermath of the partition of Bengal. His foray into traditional styles of painting was underpinned by a sense of nostalgia for the glory of the Mughal imperial past, which he shared with the Muslim intellectual elite in North India. At Lahore he was in the company of progressive poets, writers and artists like Sir Muhammad Iqbal, M D Taseer, Mary Krishna and Roop Krishna, whose cultural nationalism was more cosmopolitan in outlook.10 Chughtais sense of collective identity was premised less on an antagonistic sense of religious conict with his fellow subjects than on inventing his own distinct cultural identity within an Indo-Islamic literary and painting tradition.11 Denying a Persian pictorial inuence in Chughtais painting, which is more of a mannerism than a distinct inuence, Abduallah Chughtai, a historian of Mughal visual culture, is quoted as locating his brother in a broader intercultural and cosmopolitan context:
He has observed the beautiful legends of Hindustan. At the same time he is a glorious product of Muslim culture. In his paintings, one comes across old Hindu gods and Persian Sus in a happy company.12

Despite a formal and thematic correspondence between Chughtai and the artists of the Bengal School, Chughtai claimed to be the representative of what he called the North Indian School of painting, a claim duly acknowledged by Lionel Heath, principal of the Mayo School of Art in Lahore and curator of the Punjab section of the Indian Empire Exhibition, in his report on the Punjabi paintings:
The Punjab artists, whose works are exhibited in these galleries, may be congratulated upon having set a high standard of merit and also upon having formed a very denite and distinct style of their own. One or two of these artists were, I believe, pupils in Tagores Calcutta school in the past, and will not deny the value of their training; but they with their Punjab contemporaries are showing. . . a beauty of form. . . truly Indian in character, and which promises well for the future formation of a strong North Indian School of Painting.13

To be sure, the regional specialities on display in London had been famous for centuries for their distinct styles of painting, but before the nineteenth century they had not been considered together as representing a single, coherent Indian character. The fuzzy categories of local products came together in the late nineteenth century into a bounded entity of national art and a single category called Indian art.14 To perpetuate their aesthetic vision of cultural differences, formal aesthetic borders of the historic styles of painting were painstakingly constructed through meticulous connoisseurship around regional schools of Indian painting, and policed by museum ofcials and exhibition organisers,


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Letter from A R Chughtai to Lionel Heath, Principal, Mayo School of Arts, 1929, NCA collection, courtesy National College of Arts Archives, Lahore


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15. Established as an industrial art school under the tutelage of John Lockwood Kipling in 1875, the Mayo School of Art was restructured and upgraded as the National College of Arts (NCA) in 1958 to provide art and design education to the modern artists of a newly independent nation. For a historical study of Mayo School of Arts, see Nadeem Omar Tarar, Colonial Governance and Art Education: 1849 1920s, doctoral dissertation, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia, 2007. See also, Naazish Atta-Ullah, Stylistic Hybridity and Colonial Art and Design Education: A Wooden Carved Screen by Ram Singh, in Tim Barringer and Tom Flynn, eds, Colonialism and the Object: Empire, Material Culture and the Museum, Routledge, London, 1997; and Sajida Vandal and Pervaiz Vandal, The Raj, Lahore, and Bhai Ram Singh, NCA, Lahore, 2007. 16. The invention of authentic Oriental styles of Indian manuscript paintings and their continuation through carefully guided reproductions, often made through photographs of paintings of old masters in the later part of the twentieth century, were analytically distinct from the invention of a rareed Indian aesthetic tradition by the founders of the Bengal and Punjab schools of painting. 17. On 21 September 1944, I B Quershi, Secretary, PunjabNWFP Joint Public Service Commission, advertised a temporary post, for an artist in the old style of Indian [miniature] painting for the Mayo School of Art Lahore. Originally intended to last for a period of six months, the post was nonpensionable, and could be terminated at one months notice. With xed pay of 300 rupees, it entailed no special benets such as free housing or medical

and in the training of hereditary artisans in traditional workshops in British India.


If for Tagore and Chughtai tradition was evoked less in terms of particular styles and modes than through rareed ideas of beauty, sublimity and spiritualness of form that marked the essence of Indian manuscript painting, for Haji Sharif, a hereditary court painter from the Patiala family of Muslim painters, who sought employment in Chughtais alma mater Mayo School of Art three years before partition, a faithful adherence to particular historic styles of the past came to dene a notion of Indian tradition. Seen as a living embodiment of the quintessential tradition of Indian manuscript painting in the annals of art history, it is with the legacy of Sharif that contemporary painters from Pakistan came to negotiate.15 Although Sharif was part of the artistic neo-Orientalist milieu, his exposure as a court painter to the revivalist art movement, both in Punjab and Bengal, was rather limited. While he was serving the princely court in relative isolation the rest of the Indian artworld was reverberating with the resurgence of Oriental styles of painting as the supreme Indian tradition. The work of Nandala Bose, scion of the Bengal School and father of the Bengali revivalist art movement who instilled the commitment to work with traditional Indian painters and artisans to produce new works to be sold at village fairs, led to the rejuvenation of historic styles of paintings in the leading centres of Indian manuscript paintings.16 Building on this commitment, Shailendra Nath De, who became principal of Jaipur School of Art in the 1920s, trained another generation of students in the classical styles of Rajput painting. One of his students from the school, Ram Gopal Vijaiwargia, a collector, art dealer and artist rolled into one, was to dominate Rajasthan painting into the twenty-rst century; he died aged ninetyeight in 2003. He was also to be one of the youngest educated candidates, who, having achieved pan-Indian fame, competed for, and lost to Sharif, an old and uneducated artist, the post of Artists in old indigenous style in Indian miniature painting at the Mayo School of Art (MSA) in Lahore in 1944.17 This rather obscure event of the selection of an artist at the Lahore art and craft school three years before partition is something of an anomaly in the history of colonial education but also offers a clue as to the nature of the Indian miniature tradition that was to be invented later at the National College of Arts (NCA), the foremost art school in Pakistan, a development that would in turn spawn the contemporary reinvention of miniature paintings in South Asia.18 Suspending the government service rules, which required formal educational qualications and set certain age restrictions, the job advertisement required no academic qualications or age-limit; rather the ideal candidate was to demonstrate his or her grasp of the technique of Painting of the old Indian Masters. The only evidence of mastery of the visual past that was spelled out in the criteria for selection was familial or hereditary: an


treatment. The post was open to British Indian subjects and subjects of notied Punjab states, but Punjabis and Sikhs were to be given preference. Even women were eligible to apply, though none came forward. See NCAA Box File no 133-E, Personal File of Haji Muhammad Sharif (1944 89). 18. Nadeem Omar Tarar, Aesthetic Modernism in the Post-Colony: The Making of a National College of Art, Lahore, International Journal of Art and Design Education, vol 27, no 3, November 2008.

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Haji Muhammad Sharif, Furrukh Sair, undated, watercolour on paper, NCA collection, courtesy National College of Arts Archives, Lahore

19. Of ve candidates, two were educated artists, but without a family tradition. Gurdit Singh had a diploma in painting from Mayo School, and the Central School of Arts and Crafts London, and Kanwal Nain Kotra had studied painting at Visva Bharati Santiniketan and was a lecturer at the Sikh National College, Amritsar. Jogindera Nath was a self-taught Hindu artist, but without a family tradition. Muhammad Sharif and Aftab Ahamd were the only two Muslim candidates with a family tradition. Aftab Ahmad was young enough to be Muhammad Sharifs son, and lacked the experience that was required to qualify for the post. NCAA Box File no 133-E, op cit. 20. Virginia Whiles, Miniature Manoeuvres: Tradition and Subversion in Pakistani Contemporary Art, doctoral dissertation, SOAS, University of London

artist with a family tradition will be given preference.19 No wonder that Ram Gopal Vijaiwargia, despite his education, experience and fame, lost to Sharif, who was selected as a hereditary painter without a formal art education on the strength of his unadulterated association with the Oriental styles of Indian manuscript painting, and distance from the neo-traditional revivalist school. His origin as a court painter in Patila, where painting with multiple themes was based on illustrations from manuscripts, miniature paintings on paper, cloth or canvas and murals or wall paintings, was patronised by royal decree, granted him an aura of authenticity. A myth of the authenticity of a tradition had to be invented through a discourse on old masters and original techniques, untainted by foreign inuences, and Haji Sharif was seen as the living embodiment of a quintessential tradition.20 In contemporary Pakistani art history Chughtai is perceived as a modern Western-educated artist whose individual signature of creativity relocated access to a suitable historic past for Indian Muslims. Sharif is seen as an unlettered traditional painter who succumbed to the encounter with tradition through his strict adherence to and copying of the historic styles of Indian manuscript painting. The formation of Pakistan came as a boon to fty-ve-year-old Chughtai who, having illustrated the poet Sir Muhammad Iqbal in addition to his other manuscript publications and had earned the unofcial title of Painter of the East, was keenly patronised by the young state. Haji Muhammad Sharif Patialvi, teaching the old indigenous style in Indian miniature painting at Mayo School of Art, continued to languish in relative obscurity. In his professional career at the Mayo School of Art, which was upgraded and restructured


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The National College of Arts building during the 1950s, NCA collection, courtesy National College of Arts Archives, Lahore

as the National College of Arts in 1958, and in his art practice, he was besieged by problems of survival. Like the provisional nature of his non-pensionable post as a Miniature Artist, which was initially intended only to last for six months on xed pay of 300 rupees (but was later extended on an annual basis), the career of manuscript painting in the Lahore art school remained precarious and peripheral to mainstream art education.21 The student interest in miniature painting in the early years at MSA was negligible compared with their eagerness to learn modern painting. Over a period of thirteen years, from 1945 to 1958, only twenty-one students entered Sharifs studios, and many left without completing the course. To revive this special art, the Punjab government granted two scholarships of twenty rupees per month to students. However, as Shakir Ali, a leading artist and principal of the NCA, explained, prospects were dismal for a special art at the old MSA whose traditional sources of patronage had dried up:
Due to lack of patronage from the public, the qualied students could not get any employment in this line of work. Some of them took petty jobs as Drawing Masters or as Commercial Artists and gave up this profession altogether.

21. NCAA Box File no 133-E, op cit


22. Ibid 23. Ibid 24. Exhibition catalogue for the Fifth National Exhibition, Pakistan National Council of Arts, Islamabad, 1984, p x

With the formation of NCA, miniature painting was introduced as one of the courses in the ne art department, so that students know the basics of this discipline as well.22 It was an indication both of his distance from the exhibition and gallery circuits and of his marginal position as artist-craftsman in the artworld that it took the combined efforts of Mark Sponenburgh, the rst principal of the NCA, and the poet Faiz A Faiz, secretary of the Arts Council, to mount Sharifs rst solo exhibition at the advanced age of seventy-ve, marking his ofcial entry into the Pakistani art scene. Motivated by a nationalist impulse, to revive the art of old-style Indian miniature painting in the province, the exhibition was inaugurated in 1962 by none other than the President of Pakistan himself, Field Marshall Ayub Khan, who, duly impressed with the show, granted a lifetime pension of 200 rupees per month to the artist. The success of the Lahore art exhibition was followed by another exhibition of Mughal miniatures by Haji Sharif in Rawalpindi on 29 June 1963, arranged as part of an initiative by the Small Industries Department to promote and display the handicrafts of Pakistan to the world outside. Introducing the artist as a craftsman, the General Manager of the Small Industries Division, M Mahmoud, lauded Sharifs art as a source of inspiration to our present day artisans, mentioning the fact that eight of his paintings were sold for 6000 rupees on the spot.23 The institutional location of Sharifs two exhibitions points to two different sets of opposing demands on his painting practice. No doubt Sharif was selected on the strength of his mastery of the historic styles of the past and the vast amount of cultural information required to practise them, and not on the basis of his personal style as an individual artist. However, with the formation of the NCA as a premier art institution his art practice was found to be lacking in individual creativity. His alleged adherence to and grasp of his ancestral styles, which had provided the very basis for his eligibility for the post and his artistic renown, became a liability in the community of modern artists, given the prevailing modern aesthetic sensibilities that put a heavy premium on individual creativity. In the rhetorical words of the academic Ijaz ul Hassan, Why cannot our miniaturists create original work which depicts their own experience and perceptions? Has the technique become archaic to do this or have they become mere craftsmen?24 In contrast, for the Department of Industries that controlled the NCA until 1963, he was a prized craftsman who had excelled in his folk art. An artisan among artists and artist among artisans, his hereditary art practice was caught up in the conicting demands of modern art and a nationalistic state. To be recognised as an artist he was obliged to forgo his hereditary training to learn new tricks, but as a craftsman he was expected to preserve his skills and conform to authentic styles, techniques and subject matter considered an important part of the repertoire of the national cultural heritage. Despite the fact that Sharif had little success at the art schools in attracting students to learn the old style of Indian painting, by the 1960s he had acquired sufcient visibility in ofcial quarters through his early exhibitions. A high-prole bureaucrat, G Mueenuddin, an alumnus of the Indian Civil Service (ICS) who was present at his rst exhibition and became an avid collector of his paintings, expressed his

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concern over the future of Indian painting in Pakistan, referring to Sharif as the last painter in a tradition of the Mughal miniature who had to salvage it to save it from oblivion.25 It would be a great pity, he wrote to the Principal of the NCA, if [given the artists advanced age of seventy-ve] this form of painting is to be permitted to die with him. To forestall this, his collectors instinct stressed that it is all the more important that during the rest of his life Sharif should be enabled to produce as many paintings as possible. To facilitate this he suggested that Sharif should be allowed to retire, accumulate gratuities, a pension and a grant of land so that he could live comfortably and produce a substantial amount of work. This paternalistic and preservationist view did not lose sight of pedagogic considerations. Some promising students should be apprenticed to him on a full-time basis. That is to say, they should learn nothing but miniature painting and work with him daily to become real experts in this form of painting.26 In view of the larger interest of the country the paternalist bureaucrat pleaded to cut through the red tape and make some satisfactory arrangements under which Haji Sharif is enabled to produce a lot of work during the rest of his life and is able to leave behind one or two pupils to carry on the tradition. Shakir Ali adopted a cautious tone by acknowledging the contribution of Sharif who was highly respected by his colleagues due to his age and position as miniature painter. His presence there was considered a source of inspiration for students as well as benecial to him in the way that it has promoted the sale of his work to many visitors from abroad, who visited this college. However, he took exception to the suggestions of Mueenuddin, and considered the practice of miniature painting beyond redemption:
As regards placement of Haji Muhammad Sharif, I am afraid, no young man will come forward for this career. Haji Muhammad Sharif has taken a life-time to achieve a prociency in his art, and any short cut arrangement to revive this art will not solve the problem.27

25. Ibid 26. Ibid 27. Ibid

Inhabiting a space between technology and art manuscript painting was seen by Shakir Ali as an art/craft whose evolutionary time had run out. As an art of book illustration it was bound to disappear due to the widespread use of mechanised visual reproduction in printing throughout India. The ascendancy of modern art on the Pakistani art scene also led to diminished commercial prospects for a special art, even at the art school. However, Alis observations omitted the fact that one young man, Jamil Naqsh, having studied at the Fine Arts Department at the NCA for a year, dropped out of the Mayo School in 1953 to take up voluntary apprenticeship at Sharifs home studio for several years. Concealing his real identity, he used to sign his paintings in his formative years as Shagird Haji Sharif. In later years, he worked by combining the techniques of miniature painting with postwar abstraction and painted by drawing on his subconscious. Pigeons, a pictorial motif which he repeatedly used in the picture frame, were borrowed from Indian manuscript painting. At the same time, he managed to pass on the painting skills he had learned at Sharifs studio to a younger generation of miniature painters. Today he is cited as one of the modern masters of Pakistan for whom manuscript painting provided a point of departure and not a point of closure.


Alis modernist slant cast a shadow over the future of miniature painting at the NCA as it was not able to full the revivalist dream of an evangelist bureaucrat. Neither did it serve Sharif who, dismayed by dwindling prospects of state patronage, made desperate pleas for privileges as a right he had earned through his years of service to the nation. In his last appeal to the Governor of West Pakistan he tried in vain to use two hundred years of hereditary painting practice as a bargaining tool:
I am a hereditary artist as my forefathers for the last two centuries were attached to this profession. I started my career as an Artist in Patiala Darbar at the age of fteen and remained in Maharajahs service, up to the age of fty-ve years. . . At the present my age is about seventy-seven years, and the Government is not able to nd a miniature Artist of my calibre and therefore my services are continued from year to year. . . Neither was I allowed a promotion nor was my pay increased during the last twenty years. I had applied for the purchase of agricultural land so that my children might get maintenance after me.28

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Despite his pleadings, his case was dismissed by the government, and the decision was communicated to him rather unceremoniously by a section ofcer:
It is observed that a life-time pension of 200 Rupees [awarded by the President] is adequate recognition of the services of Haji Muhammad Sharif. In the circumstances, it is not possible to grant land to him.29

Sharif, the last painter, left the institution distraught a few months later, never to come back. He died in obscurity ten years later in 1978 and remains to this date a mysterious character. Miniature painting had to survive on the margins of ne art instruction at the NCA as a traditional craft for another few decades because of its alleged emphasis on copying and craftsmanship. It was not until miniature painting was reinvented by modern Pakistani artists, freeing it from the stigma of copying, that it was accepted as equal in pedigree to Fine Arts.

Despite the unprecedented success of contemporary miniature painters from Pakistan in the international artworld, all of whom, including Shazia Sikander and her renowned Ustad (master), Professor Bashir Ahmad (currently Head of Fine Arts at the NCA), are context-bound to trace their lineage from Sharif, there is not a single essay, not to mention monograph, on him. Although his paintings are also kept in Pakistans National Gallery of Art, connoisseurship around his paintings is singularly lacking. The information on the provenance of Sharifs paintings is scarce and left open to speculation; it is obvious that his style and subject matter continued to change with the passage of time. By the time he was retained at the NCA in 1958 he had come a long way from his grandfather Allah Ditta and father Bashrat Ullah, both Patiala Court painters in the nineteenth century. They painted murals depicting scenes from the Mahabharata, incarnations of Vishnu, Shiva, Lakshmi, Krishna Leela and Janamsakhis of Guru Nanak Dev (stories about his

28. Ibid 29. Ibid


30. Johannes Fabian, Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes Its Object, Columbia University Press, New York, 1983 31. As an indicator of their marginality, Sheikh Shujaullah is rarely cited in art historical publications on Pakistan.

life and work), along with poetic illustrations of scenes from Radha Krishna, Gita Govinda, Nayak-Nayika and Raag Mala, according to customary courtly practices. In a post-independence Pakistan, Sharif painted exclusively on paper, as painting on other supports was no longer in vogue. In terms of formal properties, an element of minimalism came to pervade his images, which showed denuded landscapes and an emphasis on the gure. No longer were themes of Radha Krishna or Sikh Gurus relevant to his immediate viewing public, who were more favourably predisposed towards illustrations of Mughal subjects. Nevertheless, folk tales of Punjab, which were popular themes for painters, continued to stimulate Sharifs imagination. However, most coffee-table books on Pakistani art history that reproduce his paintings as illustrations of a traditional art form do not locate them historically along the axis of time and often omit dates. Time as a measure of the moment does not seem to have any bearing on a traditional artist who, to use John Fabians concept, existed only in Typological Time, divested of its vectoral, physical connotations.30 It is by utilising a temporal metaphor of tradition existing in an-Other time that Indian manuscript paintings produced by Sharif in the present are systematically excluded from membership of the category of modern art. The construction of Indian manuscript painting as existing in an-Other time renders it susceptible to the full import of the concept of tradition in contrast to modernity, divesting it of the association with writing and future orientation inherent in the latter. Western modes of connoisseurship, inherited by Pakistani art historians and art critics, locate the tradition of manuscript painting on the evolutionary map as art/craft of the premodern period tied to royal patronage in a feudal society. The oral transmission of visual, tactile and empirical information in Indian manuscript painting from Ustad to Shagird, and reproduction through copying from archetypal examples of the past were construed to be the distinguishing features of premodern forms of knowledge or part of the decadent traditions of India. As the concept of tradition was interrogated in national art history for its association with the feudal past and primitive forms of knowledge, the workshop/studio practice of copying was singled out to illustrate the reductive nature of traditional modes of knowledge transmission in an enervated culture. In the contemporary re-evaluation of traditional art in Pakistan, the workshop practice of copying is held singularly responsible for the preparation of repetitive old forms and for suppressing the agency of artists in the creation of art, rendering them anonymous. In this context, Sharif and his successor at the NCA, Sheikh Shujaullah, who had earlier taught at the Punjab University, Lahore, have been routinely rebuked for being essentially copyists by almost all leading Pakistani art critics, without, however, an adequate analysis of either the copying process or their paintings.31 American art historian Marcella Sirhandi, who did pioneering work on Chughtai, offers a half-page account of Sharif in her book Contemporary Paintings from Pakistan, reproducing in colour two of his historical portrait paintings (of Guru Gobind Singh, the last Guru of the Sikhs who created the Khalsa, the militant brotherhood of Sikhs, and Bhadur Shah Zafar, the last emperor of the Mughal Empire who died in British incarceration in Rangoon) with a note that like many of Hajis paintings, the former is a copy of an

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original (which is never cited).32 The most unsympathetic dismissal comes from a young evangelical curator of Pakistani contemporary manuscript paintings, Hammad Nasar of the Green Cardamom arts organisation, in the catalogue of a Pakistani art exhibition in India, Beyond Borders, where he notes with pronounced disdain that, along with his successor Sheikh Shujaullah, Sharif:
. . . formed a cryogenic chamber, where the essence of miniature painting was frozen: to be retrieved by a later generation and giving time for artistic imagination and pedagogic attribution to catch up.33

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British curator Timothy Wilcox offers a more dramatic description of the deconstructive gesture of contemporary miniature painters, while reading the faith in the copy as the dening feature of traditional art practice that restricts individual creativity, originality and the evolution of a personal style.
Until recently, it was the subjects and images of miniature painting that provided an important stimulus; the cherished techniques, preserved through the execution of copies, exhibiting an almost obsessive craftsmanship, seemed the epitome of antiquarianism. Then came Shahzia Sikander and The Scroll. The work is a kind of visual diary, a painted autobiography, set in modern Lahore: the very shape of it proclaims that the medium is in no way limiting but offers unique possibilities of self-denition. No longer concerned with the distant past, the work is both present and personal.34

32. Marcella Sirhandi, Contemporary Painting in Pakistan, Ferozsons, Lahore, 1992, p 23 33. Beyond Borders: Art from Pakistan, National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai, 2005 34. Timothy Wilcox, Pakistan: Another Vision: Fifty Years of Painting and Sculpture from Pakistan, exhibition catalogue, PNCA, Islamabad, 2000 35. Apollinaire Scherr, Small wonders: miniature paintings with big ideas about gender and tradition, Elle 194, October 2001 36. Celebration Folio, NCA 125th Anniversary Exhibition, NCA Gallery, 2000 37. At a geo-political level, Shahzia Sikanders reception in the metropolitan artworld is mediated through a representational index that aims to salvage nonWestern identities from the one-dimensional view of the Other. The hybridity of artwork produced by the artists, which is partly extended by his or her location in the West, is rarely theorised.

At the same time, for critics and art historians Sikanders attempt to express modern and very personal themes in a preserved antiquarian art form derives its legitimacy through her very rigorous and traditional training under an apprenticeship system by a traditional Ustad whose teachers were the last of a line of traditional painters going back to the wellsprings of Mughal painting.35 The appreciation of her work is coded in a language that is sustained through a myth of authenticity attributed to traditional manuscript painting as a prized imperial art form as well her acquired association with an unbroken chain of hereditary transmitters of painting skills and techniques from the Mughal royal ateliers. By the same token, Sharif, the grand Ustad of Sikander, is referred to in the catalogue of the 125th anniversary exhibition at the NCA Zahoor ul Aklaq Gallery as having descended directly from a line of court painters in Patiala. By assuming the continuity of traditions holding the timeless secrets of an original technique the myth of authenticity is sustained.36 The reinvention of miniature painting is made possible through the recreation of a traditional art practice in which the workshop practice of copying became synonymous with the traditional method whose excessive concern with the past blocked the possibilities of self-expression. An ontology of unbroken continuity of tradition through copying had to be presumed before the modernity of Sikanders work could be established through innovation and change.37


In marking the cultural space for a traditional form of painting, Pakistani artist Sikander, who is best known for her innovative style


38. Shahzia Sikander received her training in miniature painting from the NCA and later studied at Rhode Island School of Design. For her biographical details, see http://www. pbs.org/art21/artists/ sikander/. 39. Order, Desire, Light: An Exhibition of Contemporary Drawings, Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, 25 July 19 October 2008 40. Whiles, op cit

in modern miniatures, deplores the debasement of miniature painting as kitsch in Pakistan.38 She observes that the images taken from the Mughal school were abundant on gifts items everywhere, saturating the tourist market.39 She specically mentions miniature painting reproduced on calendars for mass consumption. While kitsch in Western art history has negative connotations and refers to cheap paintings that are found in suburban shops and working-class homes, miniature painting was never industrially mass produced, nor has it the folk base to become kitsch in Pakistan. Although in the early decades of the twentieth century miniature painting enjoyed brief spells of individual patronage from collectors and connoisseurs, including high-prole bureaucrats, industrialists and foreign dignitaries, traditional Indian painting was condemned by the countrys progressive artists as the remnants of a decadent and feudal past. To cite an example, Sharifs paintings were reproduced on a calendar, perhaps once in his lifetime, in the 1960s by a leading industrial group in Lahore whose owner, Syed Babar Ali, was a highly acclaimed patron of arts and incidentally the largest collector of paintings by the artist in Pakistan. After a span of forty years, Merck Marker, an international pharmaceutical company, chose three traditional miniature artists for its calendar theme of 2008; like its predecessor, it was only circulated among the national elite and foreign dignitaries. Do the images, reproduced on a couple of calendars forty years apart as examples of royal art of the Islamic Mughal dynasty in India, qualify Indian painting to be considered as excessively kitsch in Pakistan? There are more historical and cultural reasons for contesting the application of kitsch to Indian manuscript painting in Pakistan. India fully exploited the symbolic capital of traditional Indian paintings by ofcially mass producing, under artisanal workshops, the traditional Mughal, Rajasthani and Pahari styles. By extending patronage to a large number of hereditary artists and artisans in Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh, among numerous other centres of art/craft productions, India has rendered traditional Indian painting as kitsch (what Virginia Whiles has called curio-miniatures).40 The National Handicrafts and Handlooms Museum or Crafts Museum Delhi patronised a wide range of Indian crafts for mass production and export, including miniature paintings. Unlike India, where artisanal artist communities in the Himalayan regions and Rajasthan practise miniature painting in villages, Pakistan had no comparable folk base. As a result, miniature painting, though considered one of the traditional arts of Pakistan, does not gure prominently in Lok Virsa (Heritage) Museum, a counterpart to the Crafts Museum Delhi managed by the National Institute of Folk and Traditional Heritage in Pakistan. Without a strong folk/artisanal base in the region, its patronage remained conned to individual itinerant artists who had left their ancestral homes to come to urban centres such as Lahore in search of better opportunities. There was once a large number of families of artists in Lahore who adhered to regional styles in Indian painting and could claim direct descent from the Mughal artists of Akbars ateliers, such as the Chughtai family or the Murtanawala family, as late as the twentieth century. Owing to increasing social mobility, education and commerce and the inux of cheaper technologies of reproduction and print, they discontinued their hereditary practices and graduated to

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other styles or moved into professions sometimes not related to what is considered traditional art practice.


While reecting on the copying process in Indian manuscript painting, it may be instructive to apply the distinctions made by Vishakha Desai between two types of copying practices, which are generally conated by art historians and curators in their condemnation of the copying methods in Indian painting. She argues that a process of copying by replication of the original arose in nineteenth-century India to meet the demands of art dealers and British collectors for authentic copies of seventeenth-century Mughal originals, and should be distinguished from another type of copying method integral to the manuscript painting practice. The latter model of copying, glossed over in Indian art history, is achieved by emulating an archetype or model following faithfully iconographic conventions and formal compositions while updating the pictorial details of the painting. This method becomes signicant in the context of a literate viewing public that could read the painting like a book by drawing on conventional motifs in manuscript paintings as culturally shared codes from which meaning is produced.41 Despite the fact that they have always been lumped together as twin fathers of modern miniatures from Pakistan, Desais distinction allows us to understand the different historical trajectories of modern masters of Indian manuscript painting at the NCA. One can begin to conjecture the ways in which the two Ustads have led very different lives and brought a different sets of approaches to the teaching of miniature painting to the Fine Arts departments at the NCA and Punjab University. Sharif, whose family had found employment at the court of Patiala in the eighteenth century and worked on royal commissions by drawing on ancestral examples of archetypes for a literate audience familiar with the iconography of their paintings, was closer to following the Indian method of copying as described by Desai. In contrast, Sheikh Shujaullah came of a lineage of manuscript painters who had gradually been forced to come to terms with the loss of sustained feudal patronage and a dwindling livelihood due to the rise of mechanical processes of book and picture production worked in an Orientalist fashion. Surviving as itinerant commercial artists in Lahore and Delhi, in a bid to survive in the changing times they had adapted to making portraits by copying from photographs for a largely European clientele and thereby re-learning their role as copyists. The documentary evidence from a family member of Sheikh Shujaullah, Shakir Ahmad Khan, studied by Virginia Whiles in her pioneering study of contemporary miniatures, primarily illustrates how the practice of copying arose in response to demands for representation in traditional styles in the nineteenth century.42 Furthermore, the emphasis on copying from photocopies of images from art books that gained ground at the NCA under Bashir Ahmad, which modern artists saw as a sign of a decadent tradition, was not the product of the age-old method of copying in the Indian manuscript tradition but arose in response to a very different set of conditions in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

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41. Vishakha N Desai Reections of Indias Past in the Present: Copying Processes in Indian Painting, in Asher and Metcalf, op cit, pp 135 148 42. An example from Shakir Khans press book was a letter of recommendation sent by G Bourne in 1860 which described one of his forefathers as a picture painter who does very clever copies from photographs. Another document is a commission to his grandfather for two ivory miniatures from the two photographs enclosed. Whiles, op cit. See also NCAA Box File no 302-F, Personal File of Sheikh Shujaullah (1966-1979).


43. See Debra Diamond, The Politics and Aesthetics of Citation Nath Painting in Jodhpur, 1803 1843 (India), doctoral dissertation, Columbia University, 2002.

The canonical art historical model, in which the teleological progress towards mimesis relies on artistic agency, overlooks the material aspects of court production, be it Mughal or Rajput-Pahari. In most cases paintings were not signed, and copying was a cultural practice; generic conventions often transcended personal styles, adding weight to the view that traditional artists had no agency in the creation of art. Given the strength of the disciplinary framework, even a highly accomplished Mughal art historian like John Seyeller nds it difcult to construct an art history of the artist as a creative individual. He identied Mughal Karkhana (court painting workshops), for instance, as a site of hegemonic imperial ideology that left little scope for an individual artist to develop his own visual ideals or habits. Although a full treatment of the workshop practice of copying in Indian manuscript painting is beyond the scope of this article, a brief reference to a historical study of Indian manuscript paintings that seeks to address the copying process in its own right can lead us to further exploration of the cultural context of what is constituted as traditional in Indian art history. References to the unimaginative adherence to formulaic compositions and a repudiation of past conventions in traditional miniature paintings both serve a devolutionary model of art history which is communicated through language in which the passive voice predominates, so that artists productive contributions are suppressed. While the workshop practice of copying is generally regarded as a stimulus for seeking the original or serves as the justication for a negative valuation of traditional miniature painting, several recent studies have addressed copying in its own right. Drawing on semiotic approaches to painting, Debra Diamond has read conventional motifs in Rajput paintings as culturally shared codes from which meaning is produced.43 Rather than considering copying as a mindless expedience by relating it to the perpetuation of tradition, she reads copying as a process of citation and active interpretation and artists as active interpreters of the image source. This is achieved by closely analysing the process of copying which obliges an artist to act on the image source, by rst selecting it from the pool of signs, and then tracing it wholly or partially onto a new sheet of paper. In doing this the artist reuses the sign as a commentary on the source of previous meaning. In this account of court painting from Rajasthan, the historical viewer is a literate courtier who interprets the motifs as signs in reference to their visual source, as well as to the context in which they appear. Thus Diamond argues that a portrait of a king derives its semantic authority not only through awareness of the Kings power in the world, or through an active appreciation of the paintings formal qualities, but through indexical and iconic referencing to other paintings. Courtier or historical viewer may have understood cited motifs and almost identical paintings as semantically textured rather than tediously repetitive. By offering a pleasure similar to the pleasure of tracing a poetic metaphor through its appearances in various texts the citation and recontextualisation of a canonical image in a painting would have motivated literate viewers to follow a chain of associations. Art historians and artists from Pakistan continue to frame traditional art practice as a constrained operation that suppresses individual creativity, evolution of style, artistic growth and personal volition, restricting the

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44. Homi Bhabha (interviewer), Alter/ Native Modernities Miniaturizing Modernity: Shahzia Sikander in Conversation with Homi Bhabha, Public Culture: Bulletin of the Project for Transnational Cultural Studies, vol 11, no 1, 1999, pp 146 152

artists to a slavish submission to the aesthetic demands of the patron or the visual conventions of the past. The past appears to be part of a cultural straitjacket that has to be abandoned in order for the modern artist to proclaim his/her individuality and originality. The limiting view of tradition is not restricted to a place but is projected onto entire cultures, religions and geographies. Therefore Islamic artists from Iran and Central Asia are perceived to be tied up with a tradition as much as the artists who subscribe to the tradition in South Asia, both Muslim and non-Muslim, are restricted by it. It is only by side-stepping the canonical model of history that frames the contours of a national tradition that we can begin to understand the discursive nature of traditions invented and reinvented long before the present generation of miniature painters from the NCA began to deconstruct the genre through their postmodernist renderings in the age of global capitalism.44

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