REVIEW: Imran Mir Edited by Nighat Mir and Nafisa RizviMagazines
Reviewed by Saamia Ahmed
AS a practitioner and educator swimming in the realm of the creative arts, I see Imran Mir’s biographical publication as a rather large and well-thought-out splash in the metaphorical ocean of artists’ autobiographies. One doesn’t see this kind of material readily available on bookshelves, which is unfortunate for researchers and art history scholars.
Imran Mir: What You See Is What You See recreates through the eyes of artist and designer Mir, the journey of not just one person, but also the trying times he endured, and lands he traversed in his quest to become the formidable professional he was. For young and aspiring artists, Mir’s personal narrative reaches out and becomes an example of a determined fight against the oppressive current of popular authoritative pressures. It supplements the art teachers’ advice to ‘follow your heart’ rather than the most commercial trend. The narrative also brings a practical aspect: that of an income to support a family, and how Mir has excelled at bridging often contradictory streams of the creative arts.
The book is a thoroughly enjoyable read from beginning to end, especially to a reader such as myself (and I can think of many others like me), who have been part of the art circuit, have heard of or have brushed shoulders with many of the personalities mentioned as part of Mir’s narrative. Legendary celebrities such as Zahoorul Akhlaq, Bashir Mirza, Ali Imam, Hasan Jafferey, Rasheed Araeen, Iqbal Geoffrey, and established critics, artists and curators such as Rashid Rasheed, Niilofer Farrukh, Noorjehan Bilgrami, Nafisa Rizvi, Durriya Kazi and Nighat Mir all feature in Mir’s story. Shahid Abdulla and C Anjalendran make an important part of the story as co- architects of Mir House. Hameed Haroon and Zohra Yusuf bring out Mir’s experiences in advertising and publication, all of which culminate in the establishment of Circuit, one of Pakistan’s leading advertising firms. The format of the book is carefully planned, with an introduction by Bilgrami, followed by Mir’s own note. The narrative opens through notes and reviews (some posthumous) by established artists and critics, interspersed with photographs of Mir’s work, his studio space and home (about which there is a lot of talk in the book). The narratives on the artist’s life and work are made more pleasurable by the wide array of personalities that make themselves prominent through their particular way of writing. The most memorable, for its absolute madness, is Geoffrey’s piece (it cannot be termed as mere writing), in which he creates a satirical debate on art and writing using a continuous stream of puns and jargon. Even while I write this, I wonder what exactly was being said in his writing. Bilgrami’s introduction is heartfelt, recreating a sense of the closeness shared between the author and the artist, as friends and colleagues whose experiences are deeper than the years they share.
Araeen’s writing is reflective of his Third Text journal, known for aggressive critiques and debates on established perceptions, norms and theories prevalent in the art world. Araeen is no stranger to opposition as an art practitioner. His analysis of Mir’s stance is viewed from his own antagonistic standpoint. The printing of interviews and articles on Mir by personalities who were leaders of their time (and are today considered as masters), make another flashback into the time frame through their language and style of writing. One finds oneself contemplating the art work in the light of the article just read, finding that the dimension of perception has changed after a few moments, so that one is able to reflect in a different way on the same art work.
At the end of it all, one is left with a vivid impression of years of hard work, towering personalities, some of whom recognised, appreciated and aided the artist, while others grew with him to become legends. It must be remembered that Mir’s post-Partition generation consists of many icons that used their potential to achieve great heights and become the first to initiate many endeavours in the realms of the arts, philanthropy, education, activism etc. He counts his friends as his muses, which is reciprocated in the tributes that have been paid to him. Amongst them, his wife Nighat, a renowned personality in her own right, brings her personal perspective, perhaps completing the story, in the last chapter entitled ‘Picasso and Me…Confused’. Both Mirs have been straightforward in voicing their concerns about the art world as it stands, and in Mir’s reluctance to join the mainstream art market. Art critic and author Dr Akbar Naqvi is remembered as the most vocal opposition to Mir’s art practice. The picture drawn brings into play the politics that is part and parcel of the art market. And one wishes there was more research being done on this aspect of Pakistani art.
The quality of printing deserves comment. From the orange cover jacketed in transparent plastic in the centre of which there is a round perforation through which one sees graphite cross-hatching creating a sphere to the luscious printed images of Mir’s paintings, sculptures and photographs, browsing through this book is a treat. At the end, one would like to say that there will certainly be droves of curious tourists and art students who, having read his book, would like to see the house he so passionately has made into a live art project. I do recommend this book to all art enthusiasts, and especially art students. They will learn much about not just Mir and Pakistan’s art history, but will also catch a glimpse of how the art world works (or doesn’t).
Imran Mir: What You See Is What You See
Edited by Nighat Mir and Nafisa Rizvi
The Circuit (Pvt) Ltd, Pakistan