Tuesday, 13 March 2012

A sign of the times: Pakistan’s first online art magazine makes a scene

William Lawrie, an Islamic Art specialist, flew in from Dubai for the launch . PHOTO: ATHAR KHAN/EXPRESS
KARACHI: It was in December last year that William Lawrie, the co-owner of a gallery in Dubai, was so inspired by an art catalogue that he decided to visit the country to check out its art scene.

“I have seen thousands of catalogues in my life but the one on Rising Tide at Mohatta Palace struck a chord,” he said. “The very next morning I decided to come to Pakistan.”

Lawrie came to Pakistan in early January. He met 30 artists and appeared to love Karachi’s art, which he describes as ‘a mixture of delicate and gruesome issues with a sense of humour.”

He is the director of the Lawrie Shabibi Gallery and is a specialist in Islamic Art. He joined Christie’s Islamic Art department in 2004 and worked for seven years before moving to Dubai as its first special resident in the Middle East.

It has just been over two months and Lawrie is back again in Karachi. He spoke at the launch of ArtNow, the country’s only bilingual online magazine on contemporary art. Although the magazine has been in print for six months, its official launch took place on Friday at Port Grand.

What blue-eyed Lawrie finds interesting about Pakistani art, is its focus on craftsmanship and miniature paintings. “Also, there are a lot of political and social issues involved in the paintings,” he said. “What struck me the most was that there is so much cultural and political activity on which many artists base their work.” He is inspired by Sara Khan’s miniature paintings and Adeela Zafar’s love for guns, for example. Lawrie also praised the art studies in Pakistan. “I think the standard of art education is high in the country,” he said. “What the National College of Arts (NCA), the Indus Valley of Art and Architecture are doing is great.”

While paintings on conflicts, death and politics occupy Lawrie’s gallery space, he promises that the work of Pakistani artists will also be exhibited there soon.

Meanwhile, the magazine seemed to be received with enthusiasm among the young artists. An NCA graduate, Irfan Hasan, who makes miniature paintings, said, “It is [the magazine] a great database for upcoming artists.” His recent exhibition “Dolay Shah kay Choohay” was held at Koel Gallery.

A jubilant and excited editor-in-chief, Fawzia Naqvi, said that the aim of the magazine was to highlight young and upcoming artists and to create a space for Pakistani artists in foreign galleries. “We want to portray Pakistan’s positive image on the international front,” she said. “We want to establish the magazine as an authentic source for contemporary art.” Naqvi made it clear that the ArtNow website was not a selling point for paintings. “We have pictures of the galleries but we don’t buy or sell art.”

Art collectors had also come to the launch with art critics and artists. “I used to collect paintings of Naqash and Chugtai,” said Mirrett Mumtaz. “Now I’ve passed them on to my daughter.” Her daughter, Amirah, said that she was more interested in the contemporary work of Moin Farooq. The web address for ArtNow magazine iswww.artnowpakistan.com.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 10th, 2012.

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