KARACHI: Over the last few years, Pakistan, especially Karachi, has seen an unprecedented boom in the field of fine arts. Suddenly artists are coming to the fore by the dozens, without dethroning the established names making the art scene all the more richer. Of course, it has a lot to do with the opening of many an art gallery.
Till a decade back, it would have been termed foolhardiness to entertain the thought that Karachi would have 10 art galleries. Today that number has quadrupled and no one is complaining.This has generated a debate regarding whether a majority of these art spaces are genuinely promoting art. Some are even of the view that the quantity versus quality issue has assumed relevance and the mushrooming of dozens of galleries has made it difficult for art lovers, particularly those who like art but need professional advice to understand it, to discern what to see and what not to see, where to go where not to go.
Talking to Dawn, artist and curator Shakira Masood said, “There was a time when I used to categorize galleries, not anymore. But let’s give them their due. It was Chowkandi which set the ball rolling. Before that Ali Imam used to run the show and there was no market as such. Today it’s very different. And it has generally benefited the art scene. It would be snobbish to say that so and so is a commercial gallery and so and so isn’t.”
Ms Masood feels these days artists have equal opportunity and the competition amongst them is getting healthier by the day. “It is of course a good sign. Our artists have places to go. Those who get rejected by high-end galleries have other galleries to go to. The amazing thing is that people outside of Pakistan are now becoming aware of Pakistani art. As for the quality issue, I don’t encourage copycats,” says Ms Masood.
Mohatta Palace Museum Director Nasreen Askari said, “You have to become somewhat dedicated to the cause. An increased number of art galleries means commerce and patronage; any craft that has patronage will flourish. If you are buying a painting, how do you know what its worth? For that you have to follow the new graduates, attend a few exhibitions and establish a rapport. When people talk to us and question us (at the museum) it makes us feel happy. One has to visit and talk to the gallery owners from time to time and then follow the career of the artist. One doesn’t have to necessarily pay a vast amount. It can be done skillfully. What is good about some of the art galleries is that they promote young painters and sculptors. To be able to see that kind of art is an experience in itself.”
According to Ms Askari, in today’s art world, there’s a place for everybody. “People talk about the framers who ended up running art galleries. I think there’s a place for everybody. I know someone who started off as a small, inconsequential artist and is now a very posh, well-equipped gallery owner. And there’s nothing wrong with that.”
The Foundation for Museum of Modern Art’s Jalal Uddin said, “We’re looking at the emergence and substantial growth of an art industry. I couldn’t say that five or 10 years back. In the last 10 years, there has been a mushrooming of galleries which has had a positive effect. Not just the artists have improve but also the standard of art writing has gone up. The writing has been qualitative, encouraging the artist to think out of the box. All of it has ultimately led to the growth of the industry.
“Take the example of the UAE. There they have a huge market but their indigenous movement is not deep enough. Unless you have a strong art movement in the country itself, any amount of imported art material will only have a limited appeal.”
Like other experts, Ms Jalalu Uddin too was in favour of artists having a competitive streak. However, he had a word of caution. “Any competition is healthy so long as it is a competition which is fair, open and transparent.”