The Jamil Naqsh Museum in Karachi has organised an exhibition of the seasoned artist’s new works which draw their visual and thematic inspiration from Mohenjo Daro. While his imagery and symbolism emerges from his fascination with the history of the region, it is wrapped in his signature brushwork and an amalgam of abstract, figurative and cubist presentations. The reclusive artist is based in London and paints prolifically, producing 64 pieces over the past year or so for this exhibition. The show is the second iteration, the first one taking place in London.
The title of the exhibition The Fisher Woman Of My Mohenjo Daro refers to Jamil Naqsh’s vision of the Indus Valley civilisation primarily based on the occupation of fishing. During a conversation with the archaeologist and
historian Mortimer Wheeler in the 1960s, Naqsh wondered why they chose to call the iconic figurine discovered in Mohenjo Daro ‘The Dancing Girl’. In response, Wheeler asked him, “Well, it is your Mohenjo Daro, what would you like to call her?”
In his latest exhibition of paintings, Jamil Naqsh draws inspiration from the visuals and symbols of Mohenjo Daro and owns the legacy
Sobia Naqsh, the director of the museum and the curator of the exhibition believes this series is the artist’s response to that question albeit decades later. “It is the first time that I have seen someone take true ownership of our history and call it ‘my’ Mohenjo Daro, and define the narrative from his perspective,” she says.
Indeed, through these works the artist is reclaiming our history, dug up and discovered by colonisers and contextualised, dissected and categorised by foreign institutions,.The ancient city needs to be represented by its own descendants. The artist reimagines the Dancing Girl as a fisherwoman, painting his iconic nudes with images of fish, ancient symbols from the seals of Mohenjo Daro and other visuals such as that of the bull. The rough textures in his paintings, along with earthy tones, give the works a sense of archaeological digs, of ancient secrets being uncovered. Sobia Naqsh points out that in these works, even his typical style of rendering the female changes slightly and the women acquire more ancient and indigenous features.
According to her, this fascination is not new for the artist, and some of these visuals cropped up in his work now and then. “From time to time, the symbols from archaeological sites, such as the fish and the bull, would emerge in his works. And I would wonder where this is coming from? Why a fish or a bull? Now with this series of works it all makes more sense and I can relate it to that question by Wheeler.” Whether consciously or subconsciously, he had always been thinking about the ancient civilisation and the question posed to him all those years ago, and with these works he has decided to directly explore it.
Accompanying the show is a book put together by Quddus Mirza, which provides the background to the Indus Valley civilisation and Mohenjo Daro. It is interesting that the artist’s older works have also been included in the publication, which allows for a direct comparison so that connections and departures can be picked up by discerning viewers.
“Fisher Women Of My Mohenjo Daro” was inaugurated at Jamil Naqsh Museum in Karachi on December 29, 2018 and continues till June 30, 2019
Published in Dawn, EOS, January 27th, 2019