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Depicting Lahore in images is an old practice and its early patterns could be found in the miniature paintings of the Mughal era. During the 19th century, the British colonial painters such as James Duffield Hardinge (1798-1863), Henry Ambrose Oldfield (1822-1871), and Alfred Frederick Pollock Harcourt (1836-1910) became obsessed with the architecture, street culture, couture and diversity of professions, which first they depicted in their own realistically rendered water colours and prints, and then passed this custom to the local atelier of Company Painters.
Lahore, being the cultural hub, played a vital role in the arts, literature and culture in the mid-20th century; especially, visual art was inspired by the rich panoramic beauty of the walled city and life around its 13 gates, so an exclusive genre of cityscape came into existence, as early as the 1950s. Anna Molka Ahmad, Naseem Hafeez Qazi, Mahmood Hassan Rumi, Ghulam Mustafa, Ajaz Anwar, Iqbal Hussain, Mehboob Ali, Zulfiqar Ali Zulfi and Durre Waseem are few notable names in this connection.
Sarfraz Musawir represents the contemporary generation of cityscape painters in Pakistan, who with his distinctive illustrative skills, has documented the sights and sound of this marvellous city; in a recent exhibition at the Gallery 6 Islamabad, under the title of “Jin’nay Lahore Nai Vekhya” meaning ‘One, who has not visited Lahore’.
After exploring the restless watercolourist within, Musawir profoundly presented his work in various group shows and numerous solo exhibitions, nationally and internationally. He also participated in the International Watercolour Society Festival, held in Izmir, Turkey.
The dripping watercolours off his brush have rejuvenated the clichéd, although always evergreen, subject of the walled city of Lahore along with its famous gates and street life within and around.
His unique technique adds a shimmering effect in his frames and enhances the colours against a relatively diffused sky. Earlier, in his quest of creating atmospheric vivacity in his watercolours, the artist recorded the shades of Karachi in the same documentary-like manner. His interest in the architecture makes him a keen observer of his surroundings and his paintings a diary of a traveller, passing through the streets of the metropolis instead of standing at a single point and imitating everything objectively.
Musawir’s observation and study of the skyline, as the backdrop of his watercolours, varies in Karachi from that of Lahore. His paintings are an evidence of his understanding the coastal environment of the former along the seaside, and the latter as stretched along the bank of the Ravi. This understanding creates diversity in his palette and subtle variations in his rendering of clouds and dust against the sky; subsequent to the environment. This shows the skills of a watercolour painter in a very difficult medium.
His subject, and in some paintings even the perspective angle, is identical to the British artists of the colonial period. Gates of Lahore, multi-storeyed buildings with Chhajja and Jharoka (shade and circular-balcony), Anglo-Muslim architecture of the Mall Road and surroundings are the main topic of his work. However, the painter has exhilarated his frames with a feeling of the wet atmosphere just after the rain, with enhanced reflections off the road or street. Moreover, the foggy ambiance of his monochromatic work seems more fascinating and consuming in terms of artistic achievements.
Sarfraz Musawir, with depiction of the architectural splendour and street culture of Lahore, has enlisted his name in the valuable catalog of artists with a love affair with Lahore.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, November 1st, 2015
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