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Exhibition: Colours of the modern

Updated December 11, 2016

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The Need for a Tonga — 1973
The Need for a Tonga — 1973

The contemporary phase of Pakistani art dates back to the times when the first batch of Pakistani artists graduated from the art institutions like the National College of Arts (NCA) and department of fine arts of the Punjab University, Lahore, in the ’60s and early ’70s.

The Mayo School of Arts was founded in 1875 and in 1958 was restructured as the National College of Arts. The first batch of the NCA passed out in 1962, under the contemporary vision of Shakir Ali, which can be titled as the beginning of the modernistic trends in the Pakistani art.

Muhammad Javed is one of the rare survivors of the first batch of the NCA painting class who carries the history and diversity of modern art in Pakistan within his signature style of painting that evolved during the ’70s. His style enhanced with time and as an artist, he absorbed and addressed social, cultural and political trends of the later years as well. Javed Sahib still paints in the 21st century art scene and comments on his surroundings through his knife and palette.


Muhammad Javed stirs the memories of yesteryear by bringing the early years of Pakistani art back to life


The Zahoor ul-Akhlaq Gallery of the NCA arranged a unique exhibition of collected works of Javed Sahib along with launching of a book, Muhammad Javed: A Man of Colours, compiled and edited by Dr Shaukat Mahmood.

To be among the first batch of the NCA students is itself an achievement as only the best students, who had a natural aptitude and potential of art, were selected. Shakir Ali, who himself possessed modernity and tradition in his style, introduced the visual and conceptual patterns of modern art to the local academic art. He taught the students how to adopt modern trends, without being alienated and deviated from the popular local culture.

Like other students of Shakir Ali, Muhammad Javed was also greatly inspired by the rational approach of his mentor, and naturally adopted his style in his early paintings, during and after 1965. It was a time period that can be marked as the dominance of modernism in academic art in Pakistan and the non-representational painting was being adopted largely in comparison to the already accepted realism and modern realism.

The paintings “The Real Power” (1965) and “The Need for a Tonga” (1973), clearly display these aspects that Shakir Ali adopted and expounded through his modern approach, especially the rendering of the bulls and the trees corresponds to the stylised visual idiom.

The Best One (1969)
The Best One (1969)

Later, Javed Sahib evolved his own technique where he transformed from the stylised and non-representational painter to a socially aware artist. He started to epitomise the socio-anthropological aspects of the surroundings in his art. Through his paintings, “Through an Underpass” (2015) and “The Foggy Evening” (2015), he comments on the everyday life and problems.

The artist also experimented with the various genres like charcoal drawings and calligraphy painting. He tried his hand at calligraphy during General Ziaul Haq’s regime (1977-88) when even the figurative artists such as Sadequain, Saeed Akhtar and Gulgee adopted this genre. However, after a short span of time, he went back to his intrinsic modern and stylised approach that has always been a strong narrative about his society and environs.

The artist travelled a lot and visited various historical and important cities across the globe. His drawings of Boston, Montreal, Kuala Lumpur, Cairo, Riyadh and Dubai present an objective visual documentation of his journeys. But when he paints Lahore, his approach becomes very idiosyncratic, showing his subjective empathy towards the sites and atmosphere of his hometown.

This exhibition provided the younger generation of artists and art historians a retrospective of the visual arts of Pakistan.

Muhammad Javed’s exhibition was held at the Zahoor-ul-Akhlaq Gallery, NCA, from October 19 to October 27, 2016

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, December 11th, 2016