Artists’ work: Reviving the old bond


Untitled, Saba Khan
Untitled, Saba Khan

What can a museum do for a picture or its public? What can it offer to a diverse group of artists or a multifarious community of people? Far more than one could imagine in the case of the Murree Museum and Archives situated amongst lush green trees and mountains overhung with pine and oak.

Within the Museum space, art practitioners were selected for the Murree Museum Artists’ Residency initiated by Saba Khan a visual artist from Lahore and daughter of Dr Farakh A. Khan author of Murree During the Raj: A British Town in the Hills. Afshar Malik, Usman Saeed and Madyha Leghari from Lahore and Sophia Mairaj from Karachi were the chosen artists who came for one to four weeks on a rotational basis.

They were also given access to the archival section of the Museum through which historical objects and items were brought forth and displayed as part of the Museum splendour. At the end of the residency the public was invited to learn about their practice and what encouraged them to illustrate their thoughts on Murree.

Malik, an eminent visual artist and printmaker by profession, produced forms from soft wire. These forms are reminiscent of three-dimensional drawings and hang in the air like whimsical mobile charms. These add a touch of humour and imaginative creativity to the overall display.

Capturing the magic of Murree at the Artists’ Residency

Mairaj’s work is motivated from the Irish poet and writer Oscar Wilde’s poetry and the wild flowers of Murree. The variety that is found in nature as Oscar Wilde so rightly stated, “resides in the imagination or fancy or cultivated blindness of the man who looks at her”. Her miniature renditions of the flowers are part of a scrapbook to flip through illustrating the artist’s compositional cleverness.

Birdsong, Usman Saeed
Birdsong, Usman Saeed

Saeed’s mix media depictions via digital prints, site specific installations and miniature-sized paintings are characteristic of his inventiveness. The work collectively is named ‘Birdsong’ and the varieties of mediums used are enamel on glass, watercolour, acrylic and marker on paper and digital prints on paper. The indigenous birds of Murree such as the drongo, thrush and raven are inspirational factors within Saeed’s consonance of picturesque imagination.

Leghari during the residency programme produced two types of work, paintings and photographs both personifying Murree’s bustling characteristics. Both the paintings and photographs capture the attitude and countenance of this energetic tourist spot.

Khan’s mixed media depictions of the hill station constitute the diverse tourists who come up from wide-ranging societal groups and cultural backgrounds. They form the present macrocosm of Murree with the unfortunate bright and vulgar architecture, which has taken over the colonial architecture, while fast-food shops have replaced the old traditional restaurants. Khan’s use of pizzazz colours and ritzy textures narrate her perception of the once upon a time heavenly hill station.

The elusive studio space could be described as mystical and symbolic as is the Murree Museum and Archives, which has transformed into a platform for artists, critics, tourists and the community. Such endeavours should be a frequent feature in order to promote the arts as being an intrinsic resource for society.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, July 20th, 2014