The artist known as Ahmed Zoay was born in Ludhiana, in the Indian province of Punjab in 1947. He was a few months old when his family migrated to Walton, Lahore in the newly created state of Pakistan. His father Ghulam Mohyuddin belonged to the Royal Indian Army Medical Corps and the family moved frequently according to his postings in the country.
In his formative years Zoay constantly changed schools, each time leaving friends behind and adapting to the different sets of schoolbooks. Perhaps it was this experience that sowed the seeds of the wanderlust that stayed with him throughout his life. It was obvious to the family very early that art was his passion. He inherited a love of bright colours from his mother as her leisure hours were spent in doing embroidery and the artist loved to help her sort out the dazzling array of silk strands.
In 1969 Zoay got admission in the National College of Arts, Lahore; at that time the revered Shakir Ali was its principal. For art and artists in Lahore, this was an adventurous period characterised by experimentation and innovation and outstanding talents emerged. In those days numerous foreign travellers, following the ‘hippie trail’ making their way towards India or Afghanistan, stopped off at Lahore and Zoay made the acquaintance of an American known to his friends as Mo. The two formed a close friendship. Together they travelled to the Northern Areas and Mo introduced Zoay to the new, psychedelic age of the hippies and flower children; Zoay was enthralled and from that time the artist’s travels began.
Ahmed Zoay experienced the hippie lifestyle in his youth and revelled in a nomadic existence which refined his art
Zoay became a traveller, meeting up with like-minded adventurers who put him in touch with others of their kind. It was a time when travellers formed groups, separated and regrouped. Wherever he went Zoay sought out their company and his artistic talent ensured his welcome throughout his travels. Returning to Lahore, Zoay spent months in the Kalash Valley where he worked on sculptures carved from fallen tree trunks, before continuing his travels through Bulgaria, Romania, Czech-oslovakia and Poland, visiting galleries and museums.
Throughout his journeys he continued to sketch with graphite and ink. During the years of travel, Zoay exhibited his work in numerous galleries abroad including Italy, Sweden, Holland, Germany and Colombo. From 2000, he exhibited his brilliantly hued paintings in Pakistan, in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi to much acclaim.
His work was highly appreciated, but for personal reasons he became somewhat introvert or a recluse, seldom leaving his Lahore studio.
Zoay continued to paint and in his studio was surrounded by exuberant canvases. The artist’s final great desire was to document his life and art in a book and in this context he became busy putting together his diaries and notes written during his travels when he wrote of his art and his loves. The artist took great interest in the details of his book, listing his collectors for an extensive photographic coverage. It was a surprise to discover how particular Zoay had been with details of his life and his exhibitions. He had a great collection of diaries, note books and catalogues as reference and one was able to trace the life and times of the extraordinary artist.
Zoay had the satisfaction of viewing the dummy of his book, and he was greatly excited reliving the colourful past. He was impatient to have his book in his hands and planned to send copies abroad to old friends; sadly fate decreed otherwise.
Zoay passed away after a brief illness on July 10, 2014; but his book will document the life and times of the artist whom, during his student days, Professor Shakir Ali affectionately referred to as ‘the hippie’.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, August 10th, 2014