In today’s increasingly polarised world accentuated with discrimination, racism and sectarianism, stories of harmonious cultural integration spotlight the diminishing sentiments of tolerance and human goodness. V M Gallery’s current show in Karachi, ‘Migrant-egrations; Migration and Integration Stories from Pakistan and Scotland’, explores assimilation of Scottish and Pakistani individuals and families who migrated and made either country their home. Well-researched and thoughtfully crafted this show travels back and forth in time to reveal the varied levels of adaptation which migrants of both origins have been able to achieve in their host countries.
Curated by NCA associates Qudsia Rahim and Fazal Rizvi this exhibition was organised by the British Council Arts Programme, in partnership with The Scottish National Portrait Gallery and VM Art Gallery. A multi-faceted show it is appropriately segmented into two sections: (A) ‘Migration Stories: Pakistan and (B) ‘Hal Bevan Petman’.
‘Migration Stories: Pakistan’ is further divided into ‘A Scottish family portrait’, ‘Fragments of a love story’ and ‘Isabella T. McNair’, investigates Scotland’s links with Pakistan which date back as far as the 17th century when thousands of Scots lived and worked in the British India as well as later immigrations of thousands of Pakistanis who have made Scotland their home.
Scots of Pakistani heritage make up the largest ethnic community in Scotland. Approximately 47pc of this community was born there. In 2009 the photographer Verena Jaekel was specially commissioned by the Scottish National Portrait Gallery to photograph prominent Scots of Pakistani heritage to highlight the significant and valuable contribution they are making to the country. Her ‘Scottish family portrait series’ is a delightful medley of 14 extra-large family portraits comprising 87 individuals.
As individual compositions the photo prints detail the diverse degrees of integration as manifest through the body language, dress code and personality features of almost three generations of family members sitting together for the ceremonial photo sessions. Other than radiating aesthetic appeal the works appear informative and educative and affirm Jaekel’s considerable prowess in handling her undertaking.
Directed by Sana Bilgrami the film, Fragments of a Love Story, explores the story of her great-grandfather who came to Edinburgh from India to study medicine. Nearly 100 years later, coincidentally, living in Edinburgh herself Sana pieces together fragments of archive and fiction to narrate the story. Essentially a personal tale the story also indexes the evolution in cultural perceptions surrounding migration and integration from earlier centuries to present times.
The ‘Isabella T. McNair’ (1887-1985) display uses a slideshow of a selection of photographs from the National Galleries of Scotland collections to tell the story of a remarkable Scottish teacher who was principal of the Kinnaird College, Lahore (1929-1950). While the display highlights her achievements it also speaks of acceptance and respect she earned in the host country.
Similarly Henry Charles ‘Hal’ Bevan Petman was not just an ordinary Scot who chose to live in the post-colonial Pakistan. The ‘Social painter’ segment centralises on 14 glamorised portraits of prominent socialites of the ’60s painted by him. ‘Hal’, (1894-1980), was a British portrait painter who came to the subcontinent in the ’20s, and made it his home.
Popular among the Indian nawabs and maharajas for his landscapes and portraits, Hal became a household name among the who's who of the day. During this time, he also taught a young Amrita Sher-Gil, who went on to become a talented Indian painter. At partition, ‘Hal’ and his wife Berylle opted for Pakistan, where he continued his work, till his death in 1980. Hal is buried in the Rawalpindi Christian graveyard.
He is known to have built a considerable reputation in the art scene and was commissioned by the Pakistan army to paint many generals, commanders and battle scenes. His ladies portraits of various socialites and influential personalities are romanticised renditions and the documentary, The Petman Girls directed by Taqi Shaheen with research and coordination by Romano Karim Yousaf is an absolute treat.
Centralising on the lives of old Pakistani women who were painted in their prime more than 40 years ago by ‘Hal’, the film through original paintings and current interviews of the old ladies explores the artist behind the paintings and what was it like to be painted during those times in Pakistan.