Through a uniquely thoughtful process of evolution in his own practice, Zahoor-ul-Akhlaq absorbed the shocks and hurdles of artistic transition from modernism to contemporaneity in Pakistan. He paved the way for post-modern artists to develop their own vocabulary, drawing upon traditional sources and creating a new language that liquefied the barriers between old and new. His work titled ‘Shah Jahan’, a triptych painted in 1981, drew from the Mughal artist Balchand’s work ‘The Three Sons of Shah Jahan’.

Akhlaq’s triptych shows the three riders against a visible grid — a reference to Western abstract expressionists and modernists — and he used a framing device which issued from the miniature format and the formal royal farman or decree.

The blur, the deliberate imprecision and smoky dissolution of the formality of the painting is indicative of the manifestation of abstraction and expressionism. Owning this liminal space of amalgamating tradition and contemporary, Akhlaq went on to influence future great artists like Shahzia Sikander, Rashid Rana and Imran Qureshi.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, March 29th, 2015

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