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The revival of the National Exhibition

January 30, 2013

Visitors during an exhibition held at National Art Gallery.–Photo by APP

ISLAMABAD, Jan 29: Staff at the National Art Gallery in Islamabad are rushing to prepare for the 9th National Exhibition.

Last week, the PNCA Board of Governors approved plans for the exhibition to open in May, after eight years of delay and a full decade since its last iteration.

The National Exhibition was originally envisioned as a biennial, to be held every two years. The 8th, however, was held in 2003, ten years ago; the 7th took place in 1996.

Previously, the event had been held as scheduled, dating back to the inaugural biennial opened by President Zia ul Haq in 1981 at Liaquat Memorial Hall in Rawalpindi.

“We’ve been delayed for many reasons,” an official from the Pakistan National Council of Arts explained while discussing the ten-year gap since the 8th National Exhibition.

“We had to shift into our new, permanent gallery. There was a lack of will and decision-making at the PNCA, and then a change in our leadership as well,” he said adding the exhibition was originally a PNCA initiative.

The 9th exhibition will be the first to be held in the National Art Gallery's permanent building in Sector F-5. Nazish Attaullah, former principal of the National College of Arts in Lahore, thought this was good news. “It's about time that the new gallery fulfills this important function,” she said. “This is no ordinary event; it has to be a highly professional statement, both by the artists and by the curators.”

The National Exhibition is intended to showcase under one roof the work of artists from all across Pakistan, presenting the national art scene in all its diversity, richness, complexity and freshness.

Nazish Attaullah warned that the biennial should not be simply a display of many artworks, and stressed the importance of curators. “In 2007, thirteen curators worked together around different concepts. They gave the show a unifying theme.”

Curation will be particularly important this year, as Pakistan's art scene has undergone dramatic changes in the decade since the last exhibition, as Lahore-based painter Qudus Mirza pointed out. “The visual arts have undergone a considerable transformation. There's a whole new crop of exciting artists now joining those who've dominated the scene. People are using new techniques and exploring new genres.”

Nazish Attaullah agreed, saying: “These new artists, with their youthful sensibilities and sensitives, have a different thought process, and their work reflects that.”

Musarrat Naheed Imam, Visual Arts Director at NAG, provided glimpses of how the show might be organised. “The provincial arts councils arrange exhibitions, and then a Provincial Selection Committee selects works to send on for the National Exhibition. Work from all of the provinces then enters into our competition.”

She explained that ten of the best pieces in the exhibition will be awarded prizes, and separately, nine awards will be given to artists, critics and teachers who have made substantial contributions to their fields.

The prizes will be administered by a national jury made up of eminent members of the art world. She added, however, that institutions such as NCA, Beaconhouse National University, Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture, and other art schools will be involved to help NAG explore and introduce new talent.

The National Exhibition will not just offer new, young artists the opportunity to show their work alongside their elders, but will also allow them the opportunity to reach out to one another. As one young artist put it, “The arts are one of our most potent instruments of national integration, and they can help increase understanding and mutual respect among us.”

Qudus Mirza added that the exhibition will also help present a different face of Pakistan to the world, saying, “There is no doubt that the output of our artistic community does a great deal to enhance our image.”