The month of September belongs to Allah Wasai, better known as Noor Jehan, or by her title Malika-i-Tarranum, the Melody Queen, one of the most iconic artists from Pakistan. Born September 21, 1926 in Kasur, British India, she began her vocal training at the tender age of 11 years.

Although she began performing while still very young in Lahore, later moving to Calcutta, around India and then back to Pakistan post-Partition, she had experience both on stage and on screen, as a playback singer as well as an actor. Noor Jehan is also considered to be Pakistan’s first woman director — her first film after Partition, Chan Wey (1951), in which she starred opposite Santosh Kumar, was co-directed by Shaukat Hussain Rizvi and herself. Her incredibly prolific career that lasted for more than half a century saw her make over 40 films and lend her voice to thousands of songs.

While the iconic artists’ resemblance and picture has graced innumerable posters spanning a little over a decade, a posthumous tribute held recently aims to recreate some of that screen magic through a more modern process.

The exhibition, Gaaye Gi Dunya Geet Mere [The World Will Sing My Songs], is named after one of the songs she sang for the classic film Mausiqar (1962), which she also performed for the PTV show Tarrannum in the early 1980s. The show enjoyed numerous replays well into the 1990s. The exhibition, by artist Amara Sikandar, aims to honour Noor Jehan’s legacy.

Noor Jehan’s granddaughter-in-law pays tribute to the iconic artist in a series of Warhol-ish digital portraits

For Sikandar, the exhibition is not just a tribute by a fan, it’s personal — she’s married to Noor Jehan’s grandson by her late daughter, Zille Huma, photographer Hamza ‘Kuki’ Ali (Ahmed Ali Butt’s brother). The late artist has been a strong influence in Amara’s life; she even wore Noor Jehan’s vintage restored jewellery at her wedding earlier this year.

The exhibition consists of digitally rendered portraits in a modern Andy Warhol pop-art style. Bright, vivid and colourful, each of the portraits aims to show Noor Jehan’s own flamboyant character — an entertainer for all times.

The portraits show Noor Jehan at different points in her life — as a young girl, a budding actress, holding court among her many admirers as well as some portraits from her later years, showing the more mature, ‘curvy’ version of her. In the portraits, Sikandar has added vivid details, most notably stars across the eyes of Noor Jehan, perhaps to really emphasise what a star her late grandmother-in-law really was.

“This [exhibition] is a tribute to a woman who stood in front of this masculine world when nobody used to set out to talk about her privileges,” the artist posted on her social media. “She proved herself with her abilities and expertise. She sacrificed so much for her music and enthusiasm that we can hear in her melodies.” A befitting tribute by the newest member of the family.

Gaaye Gi Dunya Geet Mere was up at the VM Art Gallery from September 1st until September 24, 2021

Published in Dawn, EOS, September 26th, 2021

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