In conversation with art collector Imran Ahmed Siddiqui
Imran Ahmed Siddiqui, High Commission of Pakistan in Dhaka, is an avid art collector. Recently, an exhibition of art from Siddiqui’s private collection was held at his residence in Gulshan. The exhibition featured beautifully drawn Arabic calligraphy by Pakistani master calligraphers, a number of works of art by avant-garde Pakistani painters, landscapes and miniatures, and replica sculptures from the Valley Civilization of the Indus, which date from the period of 3000 to 2000 BC. Aiming to showcase Pakistan’s rich and diverse cultural heritage, the event was part of Pakistan’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations.
Imran has always been very interested in new ideas and contemporary culture and art has always been an important part of that. Its collections also have various sections, there is calligraphy, figurative and objective section, landscape and scenic beauty section as well as panoramic of Pakistan. He is open to new thinking, which allows him to take an interest in all avenues of creativity.
Imran has a number of commendable collections of Shafiq-uz-Zaman Khan, Abdul Razzaq Razi, Ajab Khan, Zahid Ashraf, Wajid Yaqoot, Abdul Rasheed, Muhammad Asghar Ali, Asghar Ali, Mussarrat Arif, Ahmed Ali Bhutta, Afrah Fiaz, Fahim Hamid Ali, Irfan Ahmed Khan, Maqsood Ali Lashari, Rana Riaz Ahmed, Nisar Ahmed, Shabana Nazir, Sumaria Amin among others.
Imran’s has a rich collection of modern and traditional calligraphy, whose delightful handwriting quickly influences a viewer’s feelings. Many of his calligraphies are pen and ink on paper, but some are woven into paint and sculpture. It was clearly understood that modern calligraphers continue to experiment with new materials and techniques, but they all revolve around a love and respect for the written word. Some calligraphers were drawn with a reed pen, which is used by dipping in a variety of colored inks. Some calligraphers texture letterforms together or separate words using different colors; in some cases gold or silver leaf is applied.
Imran has a rich collection of landscape paintings and realistic works of art. Among painters, Ajab Khan focuses on color consistency, smooth textures and stunning strokes. The artist has developed a particular style particularly in the watercolor medium. He prefers the medium first and foremost for its articulation. The painter feels that nature is an inexhaustible source of splendor and mystery. He finds his inspiration in the elaborate details of the mystical essence of greenery, light filtering through leaves, flora and fauna, the silence of nature and foliage, the play of light and shadow and many others. Each of these elements contains a new story for him and an invitation to embark on a new journey. He used the full water technique. His works were also done through nimble brushstrokes. It possesses the adequate persistence and potentials to turn visual glimpses of the world into a heartwarming representation. Its colors are often sober and calm, which can convey the meaning of the themes.
J. Arif used horse motifs in his painting as a symbol of vigor and progress. The approach is realistic. The painter pursued tonal impressionism for some time, before settling into tonal realism. His works tell a story where we find reflections of ourselves – our struggles and our dilemmas. It is a story of creation, research and discovery.
Zahid Ashraf is known for the watercolor technique. His color selection is truly commendable and he understands the anatomy of the local culture superbly. Plowing the earth with two cows in a mystifying setting where solitude and tranquility are two vital mechanisms in his work. The theme of his work is dark mood and features are highlighted and lighting is an important feature of the work.
Wajid Yaqoot is a landscape painter who depicts a group of trees in the middle of a pond. Uninhabited landscape, the sky seems dark for its pale hues. The artist has a super ability to mix silence and peace. Over the years, the artist has gained popularity for his individual depiction of the scenic and rural setting of the Punjab landscapes, painted with the plein air technique. Yaqoot also paints decorative landscapes in soft and luminous colors on large canvases. He used broad and sometimes very refined strokes when he used to symbolically represent birds, clouds and the seasons. His features are both natural and capable of creating a language that is familiar to us. Its color is both bright and soft and appears rich and smooth. His soul is always on the lookout for space where green, azure, red, purple, off-white and yellow are filled with joy and ecstasy. Many of his paintings are based on nature and greenery and the division of space in his compositions is dramatic; with large spaces held flat while smaller areas have several tiny shapes. It is obvious that the artist spent considerable time creating the illusion of space.
High Commissioner Imran Hossain Siddiqui said the following about the collections.
What makes your collection special? Is there a particular type of art that has always appealed to you, or something that binds all the works you have obtained?
This collection takes you on a journey that spans centuries. It has replicas of the artifacts that tell the story of the beginning of human civilization in South Asia. It is in 7000 BC. AD that South Asians first domesticated flora and fauna in Mehrgarh, Balochistan, and began to organize religions and settlements. Their efforts were the basis of the Indus Valley Civilization. Gandhara with a touch of classical Greek art is a third important ancient landmark in our history.
Islam arrived in Pakistan in the 8th century and became a permanent settler in the region in the following years. The Islamic cultural influence is the last chapter of our history. This collection contains beautiful pieces of Arabic calligraphy, illumination art and miniature paintings by Pakistani artists. As such, it offers a study in the continuity of the ancient tradition by mixing the old and the modern.
Our diverse society is a receptacle for intellectual fusion. The multiplicity of religions that have sprung up in its fertile lands, the vast array of monasteries, mosques, temples and monuments that dot the country, and the vast number of social and cultural movements that have flourished here constitute an integrated history that needs to be told in beautiful artistic expressions.
The desire to tell this story is the source of inspiration for this collection.
What made you want to get into art collecting? How long have you been collecting?
My wife and I have been collecting these pieces for over 10 years. Our interest in traditional arts and crafts is the reason we started collecting pieces and then organizing exhibitions.
What is the main source of inspiration when collecting art? How would you define the art you have collected?
My desire to tell the story of a unique yet diverse cultural tradition is the main source of inspiration. This story is alive and continues. This is not only the legacy of Pakistan but also of several Muslim countries including Bangladesh. In arts and crafts, we share a common cultural heritage. There is a wide field of collaboration to further enrich it.
I hope we can connect artists to study contemporary art movements in our respective countries and explore new areas where our common ancient heritage can be blended with contemporary art.
Are you more concerned with emerging or recognized artists? What important artists and works of art are in your collection?
Art and artists need official level support and encouragement through scholarships, courses and exhibitions. In my career, I have always advocated this for artists all over the world. A great work of art comes from deep observations and insights and a free exchange of ideas that we must facilitate. I have works of art by renowned artists such as Mr. Shafiqur-uz-Zaman Khan, Chief Calligrapher of the Prophet’s Mosque (PBUH), Madinah Munawwarra, miniature paintings including Sumera Ameen, Kausar and Shabana, as well as replicas of great Gandhara pieces such as Fasting Siddharth, a replica of the oldest image of a Yogi as well as themes from the life of Buddha.
From whom do you acquire the most works?
My goal is to promote new artists and their work. Many of them produce excellent work. I generally avoid expressing a preference for one over the other
What is your goal in art collecting? What current trends are you following and why?
I focus on traditional arts and crafts. I’m always fascinated by pieces that are produced by a fusion process. Furniture fusing traditions of Hala in Sindh with Chinniot in Punjab, paintings using Gandhara motifs to express modern trends, pieces of fabric with eclectic Kashmiri, Balochi, Cholistani,
Sindhi embroidery and raw material. It’s something I promote.
The writer is an art critic and cultural curator