KARACHI: If one was asked to make an all-time top 10 list of Pakistani painters, Bashir Mirza (1941-2000), fondly known as BM to his admirers, would definitely be one of them. In fact, he might even end up as one of top five, though that’s not how artists’ worth should be analysed — it’s just for context’s sake that one is compelled to come up with such an assessment. The kind of free-spirited attitude that his work exudes and his remarkable use of colours and figures have earned him a unique place among Pakistan’s creative community. This is why an exhibition of BM’s selected works which opened at the VM Art Gallery on Tuesday is a treat to visit.
But first, let’s see how the gallery has reasoned why it put his paintings from its collection on view: “This exhibition aims to pay homage to the legendary Pakistani painter Bashir Mirza. His distinguished mark making, interesting subject matter and diverse visual language is a testament to his artistic excellence. By showcasing works spanning over decades, the viewer is given an insight into Mirza’s various realms of explorations and techniques.
“A socio-politically conscious person, Mirza’s work commented on the dominant political occurrences and the repercussions faced by the people. For example, the ‘War’ series which highlights the gory nature of war and its infliction of suffering. He went onto create other works commenting on the political sphere and plight of the people such as the ‘Dawn of Democracy’, which was exhibited in 1989 after the end of Ziaul Haq’s regime…”
Spot on. And yet, there’s more to this must-see show. There’s a striking piece called ‘Karachi’ (mixed media on paper) which was made in 1989. Now, bear that period in mind and look at the artwork: it masterfully depicts the environment that the region was in at the time, and by virtue of having a protagonist (face, hand) he has personified the collective dilemma through the struggle of an individual. And the intelligent use of colours, with the unmissable orange and yellow strokes, allows him never to lose sight of hope.
The exhibition concludes on Oct 30.
Published in Dawn, October 13th, 2021