ISLAMABAD, May 27: The National Art Gallery is a modern edifice on the outside but that does not reflect inside.
It has been nearly a decade since the gallery made major art acquisitions.
Some senior artists said NAG was becoming dull and needed more contemporary artworks installed in its galleries for the viewers’ pleasure.
“Contemporary art is making rapid advances. Everyday contemporary art, such as miniature or calligraphy, transforms the art scene. The gallery needs such works in its permanent collections. We are showing 10 years old art to college and university students who visit us,” said a senior official in the PNCA (Pakistan National Council of the Arts), who attributed the crippled progress of NAG to shortage of funds.
According to officials in the NAG, the last major inductions done through the advisory committee on visual arts, made up of respected artists from around the country, was almost two decades back when Khalid Syed Butt was the director general PNCA.
He included Zubeida Agha’s works, who was the first Pakistani modern artist and helped bring the modern idiom to Pakistan; Sumaya Durrani, a Karachi-based practicing artist, and Jamil Naqsh, best known for his female nude figures, and a student of Shakir Ali to NAG’s permanent collections.
Later in 1990s, writer and poet Kishwar Naheed was also enthusiastic about supporting art and acquiring more works.
According to the NAG officials, the last time three or four inductions using personal influences were Anna Molka Ahmed’s priceless mural called the ‘Dance of Death’, Jamil Naqsh’s wooden sculpture ‘Cry I’, Shakir Ali’s landscape oil on canvas and Rabia Zuberi’s ‘Human Existence’ capturing different moods placed at the entrance inside NAG after it moved into the new premises in 2007.
Not only is NAG missing works of dynamic Lahore-based painter Imran Qureshi, Shazia Sikander, who specialised in Mughal miniature painting and Persian miniature painting, or of Bashir Ahmed, a master painter, who founded the miniature department in the National College of Arts Lahore, the gallery even does not have one of Pakistan’s foremost calligrapher Rasheed Butt’s contact information let alone acquire his recent works.
The last time NAG acquired Raheed Butt’s works was between 1980 and 1982, said the senior official of PNCA.
Art critic Quddus Mirza also believed that in principle all public galleries should update their permanent collections.
Director/Curator NCA Gallery, Lahore, Qudsia Rahim also believed that NAG needed to invest in art more, not just visual but all kinds of arts. to help them grow in anyway possible. “The gallery is lacking in ideology. One expects them not just to collect older art but understand and appreciate contemporary works also,” said Qudsia Rahim who recently visited NAG.
When contacted, Director General PNCA Tauqir Nasir said budget constraint was a major hurdle in acquisition of newer artworks.
“The advisory committee on visual arts that used to recommended/select art works for acquisition to keep building up the stock pile was discontinued. But it will be revived soon,” he said, explaining how promotion of visual arts was the basic mandate of NAG.
He attributed further delay to the budget cuts. “And the PNCA has been attached to several departments in the recent past and then devolution hit us too.
It will be another four or five months for the PNCA to stabilise and get things organised,” said Mr Nasir.