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Since his first solo exhibition in Karachi in 2002, Ali Azmat has delighted art enthusiasts with his skilled and subtly worked views on life lived around him. The early lone female figures symbolising hidden emotions, earned him enthusiastic audience acclaim. Recognition of his inherent drawing skills and the command of composition that underlie his work earned him a Medal of Excellence from the National Exhibition arranged by the Pakistan National Council of the Arts in 2003.

In his work Azmat continued to vary subjects and mounted his first exhibition in London at the Delaye Saltoun Art Gallery, Saville Row in 2009. There his “Moorat” series sensitively portrayed the innermost feelings of the transgender community. In 2011 the artist exhibited a series on children titled “Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom”.

The artist’s latest work mounted at the Sanat Gallery, Karachi, was somewhat of a surprise. There, an exhibition titled “Dangal” focused on male figures suggesting pehelwans standing out against ‘found’ imaginary painted landscapes. The paintings were then placed in bright gold, intricately worked frames of fibreglass.


Ali Azmat uses wrestlers to symbolise a male-dominated society in his current show


Elaborating his work, Azmat says that the work was to do with his current university study for M.Phil. Exploring the markets of Lahore, the artist discovered scenic paintings that act as the backdrop of the work, and then painted in the subject with oil and acrylic paint.

The artist shares recollections of his childhood, “Dangal is the name of the ground where wrestlers practice and bouts take place. I remember my father who was obsessed with the akhara culture. He exercised on a daily basis and followed the pehelwans’ dietary routine. He regularly watched wrestling matches that took place, and I used to accompany him.”

Azmat was born to a farming family in Multan, where no one understood his ability and love of art, however, now they are very proud of him and his success. Knowing the exceptional artist and his commitment to art, one understands with respect the difficulties he initially faced and lauds the strength of his ability and the talent that overcame all odds.

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In 1992, Azmat made his way to Lahore, where his considerable drawing skills ensured his admission into the Punjab University’s fine arts department. Graduating with a master’s degree, a gold medallist, the artist was given the option to stay on at the university as a faculty member, and began his successful career which continues till today. Married to a fellow artist, his home is also his studio, where his young daughter loves to paint with them.

In the work currently displayed, the artist uses wrestlers to symbolise a male-dominated society with muscular figures of men against the imagery of rural landscapes. With figures depicted in various poses, one eye-catching painting has three proud male figures, sparsely clad for wrestling, posing for the camera. Tentatively looking over a shoulder, one spies the well-covered head of an unsmiling woman. This says it all.

Azmat is an exceptional artist who invariably creates art of varied aspects, work that is long remembered.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, January 24th, 2016

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