The concept of establishing an art foundation to preserve and foster an artist’s creative legacy is not a norm here and such institutions are few and far between. As and when such an initiative is undertaken by concerned individuals, expectations are raised and hopes are pinned on the foundation’s worth and ability to generate an art momentum.
The Imran Mir Art Foundation (IMAF), established in 2015, is the most recent example of a private enterprise dedicated to such an endeavour. According to the IMAF manifesto, “the foundation aims to encourage and support a broader understanding and experience of Imran’s art, as well as promote and foster innovative artistic expression and art criticism in Pakistan through various engagements with artists, designers, curators, researchers and academics globally.”
Born in Karachi in 1950, Mir graduated from the Central Institute of Arts and Crafts (CIAC) in 1971 and later acquired a Master’s degree in communication design from the prestigious Ontario College of Art, Toronto, Canada. A painter at heart, he pursued a career in communication and design and excelled as an art director, designer, illustrator, photographer and sculptor as well.
The Imran Mir Art Foundation aims to encourage and support a broader understanding of Mir’s art and promote innovative artistic expression
However, it was his assiduous search for a new rhetoric of the abstract painting that was most striking in his challenging and inscrutable series of artworks simply called “Papers on Modern Art.” Sourcing European / American models and aims of modernist art, Mir brought poise, grace and flow to a hard edge, geometrically modulated vocabulary. Rejecting specificity of subject he chose to rely more on aesthetic design elements to build content in his paintings. In general abstract art is often seen as carrying a moral dimension, in which it can be seen to stand for virtues such as order, purity, simplicity and spirituality. These qualities were visible in Mir’s art.
Establishment of an award for the most promising emerging artist was the IMAF’s first major activity. The objective was to encourage an artist whose work embodied the values and work ethics of Mir. In November 2015, a juror panel of noted architects, artists, art critics and educators nominated young artists from the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture (IVS) for the IMAF award. The art prize finally went to Noureen Ali, a fine arts graduate.
Recently applications for the Mir Art Prize 2016 have been opened for Karachi-based artists under the age of 35. Applicants from diverse backgrounds, even those without a formal degree in art are encouraged to apply for the prize which carries a cash value of 50,000 rupees. The award will be based on a juried assessment of recent work by jurors Iftikhar Dadi, professor art history, Cornell University, New York; Simone Wille, art historian and writer, University of Innsbruck, Austria; and Saira Ansari, director of communications at The Third Line, Dubai.
When queried about changes in jury panel and award criteria this year, the chairperson of the IMAF Nighat Mir explains that the previous [first] Mir Art Prize had a home-grown jury and was meant for just IVS students given his [Mir’s] special relationship as a founder with the IVS.” Regarding current panel members, she says, “We are hoping the jury will be less subjective in their appraisals. All three have deep connections to art in Pakistan without having personal connections. Besides all three are acknowledged writers and critics.”
Nighat pointed out that the award is open to self-taught artists also because, “some of the best artists around the world have not had formal art education. Sadequain was one such artist. He had a deeper understanding of art and formalism than most Masters’ level students.”
Mir was from Karachi and currently the prize is centred on artists in this city but the IMAF plans to go national and increase the footprint of applications gradually as well as the prize money. It is too early to comment on the efficacy of the IMAF as a forward-looking art platform but Mir’s ideology is the guiding spirit of the foundation.
Very determined and committed Nighat Mir says, “Mir was the first to say “let’s take risks.” He always took the plunge — he succeeded in many areas even when people told him it couldn’t be done. “We are undeterred by ‘what if’. We are ready to learn from mistakes,” says Mir.
The award will be presented in late January 2017 with a reception and exhibition of the recipient’s recent works at the Imran Mir Studio, Karachi
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, December 4th, 2016