• Catalogue - Every Thing We Do Is Music At The Drawing Room Gallery
  • This book and accompanying exhibition take us on a journey along myriad routes and across continents, led by curator Shanay Jhaveri, who was brought up in a family devoted to the study and enjoyment of Indian classical music. Shanay introduced us to the radical Pakistani artist Lala Rukh and ensuing conversations explored Indian classical music as a source of inspiration for a range of modern and contemporary artists. The result is Everything we do is music, which examines the history of this transmission, and reveals connections between artists hailing from different parts of the world including Pakistan, India, Argentina, the US, France, Germany, and the UK.

    Shanay’s fascination with the subject of Indian classical music is deeply personal and almost elemental, a tone shared by Saira Ansari and Alexander Keefe, whose essays each expose a sincere commitment to the artists and musicians under discussion. From Shanay we learn that ‘ragas consist of a selection of five, six or seven notes distributed along the scale, making room for a melodic framework of improvisation’ and that they include a single main note to which the singer constantly returns. Saira recalls watching, as a child, a televised performance of a raga that was powerful enough to ignite audiences and performers alike. Alexander sets the scene: another televised performance, on April 10th 1955, of sarod player Ali Akbar Khan reintroducing Indian music to modern America; by the end of the millennium anyone who had listened to the Beatles and FM radio or watched TV could recognise the Indian sound of the sitar.

    Everything we do is music considers how the special characteristics of ragas can be evoked through drawing, even as marks move beyond the paper substrate and onto the body, or are subject to digital animation. Drawing Room’s raison d’être is to explore the special capacity of drawing to cross disciplines, and to communicate ideas and sensibilities that challenge other media. This was explored in Drawing on Space (2002), the publication that marked Drawing Room’s inception, and that included pages from Nasreen Mohamedi’s diaries.

    The conceptual tasks of making a drawing, and of producing a sound, seem uncannily aligned, a conjunction that Drawing Room explored in Sounds like Drawing (2005) curated by Anthony Huberman. Continuing our exploration of the links between drawing and music, we worked with Grant Watson to produce Cornelius Cardew: Play for Today (2009). This exhibition and book focussed on this experimental British composer’s journey from the radical music of his graphic score Treatise (1963 –7) to the radical politics of his scores and lyrics for the Communist Party of England.

    The Scratch Orchestra, an initiative of Cardew, among others, was open to all, regardless of musical training. Its concept was inspired by John Cage, who is also the guiding spirit for Everything we do is music, the title itself a Cage maxim – that art is life, or life is art, and that everyone is an artist. Cage appropriated this concept from Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, a philosopher of Indian art, who rejected the western notion of art as the personal expression of a special individual – the artist. Wishing, like Coomaraswamy, to avoid the trap of artistic egotism, Cage adopted the tenets of chance operations and improvisation, strategies that also became popular for visual artists in the late 1950s and 60s. In Everything we do is music we find artists combining these radical strategies with more traditional techniques.

    In his essay Shanay quotes from Nasreen Mohamedi’s diary entry of February 17, 1960 ‘music-abstract quality and yet real to such a degree that is almost life’. Mohamedi might easily have made the same observation about drawing. All drawings are abstract, in the sense that they can only ever be themselves. And at the same time they are real. This conundrum was explored in Abstract Drawing (2014), an exhibition that included Mohamedi and was curated by British sculptor Richard Deacon. Both music and drawing use sparse material to visualise an idea, or express an emotion; what each note or mark generates is, however, resoundingly real.

    In Everything we do is music the individual mark, or the beat, the line, or the tone, take us from figuration to abstraction through artworks made across an expanse of time and geography. Through Shanay’s specialist knowledge the exhibition brings together artworks spanning ragamalas made in the 17th century, through to new commissions by Sarnath Banerjee, Prabhavathi Meppayil and Michael Müller, via an older generation of artists from India, Pakistan, Argentina and the US, many introduced to London for the first time. We discover the varied oeuvre of Lala Rukh, Mohan Samant’s figures in the throes of musical performance, Sabah Husain’s calligraphic flourishes, and the lively drawings of reclusive Vidya Sagar. Four stunning drawings by Mohamedi are included and Dayanita Singh has contributed, despite its delicate condition, Zakir Hussain, her seminal photo book of 1986. Watercolours that represent Francesco Clemente’s Evening Raga series are included, as well as Shahzia Sikander’s recent animation, Disruption as Rapture, which seems to encapsulate Shanay’s effervescent curatorial vision. The exhibition explores the influence of Indian classical music on important American artists such as Lee Mullican and Marian Zazeela, and on French artist Tania Mouraud, and its wider influence on western popular and counterculture. Setting the tenor of the show is Claudio Caldini’s stroboscopic film Vadi Samvadi, whilst London-based Hetain Patel’s filmed performance to the beat of the tabla drum sustains a rhythm that carries the exhibition.

    Ragas consist of notes distributed along a scale, and a main note to which the singer constantly returns. In Everything we do is music each artist similarly creates a set of rules within which they are free to improvise. Unifying the diverse approaches is the act of mark-making to articulate the moment. Everything we do is music presents a ‘chorus of amplifying polyphonic human frequencies’, with artworks ranging from those that express the internal rhythms of the body, to those that are tensioned and highly tuned.
    Kate Macfarlane

    The score is a notational system that is foundational to western music, and has in itself become a subject of inquiry within contemporary art. One needs to look no further than Documenta 14 (2017), where various iconographies of scores, rendered by a range of musical and artistic practitioners, were taken up as ‘objects of interpretation and improvisation’. Roland Barthes and his 1971 From Work to Text are referenced, whilst Cornelius Cardew and Jani Christou serve as exemplars of those who ‘revolutionise the language of the score’.

    I grew up in a home in Mumbai, where Indian classical music was omnipresent, thanks to my paternal grandmother’s great dedication to it. Not only did she learn to play the sitar, but also encouraged and inculcated an appreciation for it. Consequently, my experience of Indian classical music is home grown and informal. It has migrated from my Discman to my ipod and now onto my iphone; an enduring background refrain. I simply know the basics; that the origins of Indian classical music are generally traced back to the Vedas, the oldest of the Hindu scriptures, which date from c.1500 BCE. The Vedas comprise four parts and, of these, it is the Samveda – a collection of melodies containing 1,603 verses – that is the foundation of Indian music. Chanted by priests, these hymns would eventually evolve into ragas: a selection of five, six or seven notes distributed along the scale, making room for a melodic framework of improvisation. Ragas also include a single main note to which the singer constantly returns. Over time, two schools of Indian classical music have developed. In northern India, there is Hindustani classical music, where ragas tend to be classified according to a mood, season or even time of day. In the south, there is Carnatic music: ragas clustered by the technical traits of their scales. Crucially, however, Indian classical music has developed through the oral tradition as opposed to notation; what is significant is the exchange between instructor and student. There is an absence of any notational system, a score as the originator for action, preceding the live act of performance. In notated music of the west there is the potential to ‘read’ a score and from it extrapolate meaning or express a response. Barthes has suggested that graphic scores might be seen as ‘transactional documents’: ‘a device that “trans-acts” between (visual) language, enactment, the body, and space, yet also as something that can be read to enact in a variety of ways’. This kind of exchange, or translation, is not available to the performer or artist who is drawn to Indian classical music, where there is no tradition of notation. Concepts of logic and linearity that underpin western music do not govern Indian music. Instead, an accent on the oral and improvisatory allows for explorations of temporality in terms of the indefinite and the infinite. So, can the subjective acts of various artists attempting to represent Indian music become, in themselves, a polyphonic record of different temporalities, which a graphic score cannot fully illustrate?

    Everything we do is music is not a comprehensive survey of every work of art that has ever been made in response to Indian classical music. Instead it follows two largely identifiable trajectories – the figurative and the abstract – which artists have employed to evoke their experience of Indian classical music.

    The Indian scholar Dr. Narayana Menon has explained that, in archaeological finds, musical representation takes one of two forms: it is either a depiction of musicians and dancers; or it denotes an associated mood or the character of a particular raga. This is most palpably manifest in miniatures, especially those from north India. Known as ragamalas, these paintings have been identified as a specific genre emerging in the second half of the 15th century. However, their roots go further back, to the Brihaddeshi text. Conditions of pleasure, rapture and love are oft the unifying matter of the ragamalas; they are narrative tableaus in which lovers are beheld either together or separate, in states of anticipation and longing.

    Many artists active in the 20th century have harnessed this unique heritage of musical representation, attempting to transmute its specific tenants with their aesthetic idioms. Preoccupied less with representing sound through literal movement, these artists seem trained on capturing something else. Mohan Samant, who initially trained in Mumbai at the J.J. School of Arts, spent time in Italy and Egypt, and finally settled in New York. He was a talented sarangi player, hosting recitals and performances at his loft with his wife Jillian. From as early as the 1950’s, and throughout his career, Samant would create drawings, and paper relief and wire constructions, depicting musicians in concert. A performer in his own right, Samant trained his attention not so much on the body of the dancer who receives the music, but instead on those who are involved in its performance. Teetering between figuration and abstraction, his dense constructions of raised paper cut-outs and twisted wire, where forms and figures overlap and merge into one another, become visceral embodiments of a performance of Indian classical music. There is no neat arrangement of elements, but rather what Samant manages to evoke is the demand that performing a raga makes upon a musician: a personified attendance. Pandit Madhusagar Family (1978) and Musicians (1999) convey the sense of an improvised conversation, a core tenant of Indian music, in which the performer dictates the temporal frame of the performance. The manner in which he or she is able to introduce the raga and then have it unfurl is calibrated in situ. Samant’s techniques of swirling, curling, intersecting, and overlying of paper and wire, correspondingly exude an impromptu sensation.

    A number of photographers have trained their camera on Indian classical musicians, in concert and in rehearsal, and in the 1980’s Raghu Rai produced black and white photographs for the magazine India Today. Dayanita Singh’s first book, Zakir Hussain, published in 1986, departs from straightforward photojournalism and aspires to apprehend the private world of a musician. In the early 1980’s Singh began to document the musician on the road. Her book abounds with a sense of intimacy, as she enters a private world – backstage, the discipline of rehearsals, naptime, the waiting and contemplating – carefully balanced with a life on stage, full of travel and movement. The book becomes a diary, in layout and text. The images, made over a vast period of time, are not presented chronologically, and instead convey Hussain’s experience over time.

    Singh’s encounter with Hussain, and by extension the rigour and emphasis on private elaborations so foundational to Indian classical music, also informed her own practice as a photographer, allowing her to find and hone an elliptical quality that would go on to define her work. Singh credits her time travelling with Hussain and the other musicians as helping to lay the foundations of how she edits: ‘how they would put a concert, an evening, together; how a raag would be divided into different parts, and be a collection of fixed notes, yet your genius lay in how you played with those notes. You create something out of this restriction, this restraint. So the larger map for editing was emotionally embedded in me by the musicians.’

    Zakir Hussain is not simply a document of an Indian classical musician in black and white photographs; it reveals how the music shaped Singh’s artistic development alongside that of her subject. Francesco Clemente, the Italian artist who first visited India in 1973 and who has had an enduring connection with the country, has made numerous bodies of work in collaboration with local artisans and craftsmen, including a group of watercolours collectively titled Evening Raga (1992).

    ‘The work I was making in Benares I titled Evening Raga. I used Evening Raga instead of Day because to my mind the overall theme was metamorphosis – activities of the mind connected with dreams and sleep. Nonconscious decisions. The images work on variations of this theme, and each group is kept together by a mood, a flavor that you keep in mind. There are given elements that stay the same – color combinations, usually two colors. It’s the image that varies. But what keeps it together is the mood….Images of transformation and metamorphosis.’ When describing them to Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky thus, Clemente regards them as mnemonic, rather than as graphic representations of sound, or even a depiction of a performance that he has witnessed or heard. His images are committed to a psycho-sexual exploration of different states of bodily being. One group of images is composed of a seeming ‘male’ figure whose head is variously supported, caressed, or contorted by a pair of hands, eventually morphing into an abstract amoeba-like form, intimating erotic assignations. No doubt Clemente harnesses traditional representations of Indian classical music, which go beyond the picturing of physical attributes. Immersions in alternate consciousness, where the sexual and spiritual intertwine, create a mood, a refrain running through a series of works. Clemente locates himself and his interest within the makeup of Indian classical music, where the Evening Raga drawings reverberate on and from the actual ragas that inspired them. What Clemente’s Evening Raga accentuates is how certain artists are able to articulate their subjective experiences of Indian classical music, which in the exhibition range from the individual, to the shared, to the cosmic.

    Sitting cross-legged on a low stool in front of a drafting table in a sparsely furnished studio in Vadorada (formerly Baroda), Nasreen Mohamedi would draw, late into the night, listening to Hindustani classical music. On 17 February 1960, she wrote in her diary, ‘music–abstract quality and yet real to such a degree that is almost life’.

    It would seem that this attitude guided her pristine compositions of asymmetrical grids and floating diagonals. These drawings seem to evoke the improvisational tenets of the music she so enjoyed, rather than notating melodies and vibrations. Moreover, as Mohamedi’s close friend and art critic, Geeta Kapur has proposed: ‘Nasreen wanted to embody and be engulfed by such structured resonance – the phenomenology of deep, full sound offered her relational sentience; it also gifted her solitude’.

    For Mohamedi, the task was not to find a way to formally represent Indian classical music, but to dwell on the role it could play in ordering subjective experiences. In an attempt to explore how the actual performance of music could prompt an embodied self-awareness, Tania Mouraud created her Initiation Rooms (1971), a series of white sensory-lit environments in which the musicians Pandit Pran Nath and Terry Riley, and the artists La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela, were invited to perform. The Initiation Rooms are part of a larger group of landscapes and environments that Mouraud has evolved since the 1970’s to search for what she calls ‘an extra space for soul extension’, rooms intended to be places for dedicated reflection and introspection. Mouraud presents her vision for these rooms with technical drawings, imagining these spaces in a variety of configurations, the most extreme suspended on a mountaintop or in a hollowed-out cliff. Mouraud’s rooms are ‘psychosensorial’ immersive environments calibrated to heighten the reverberations and vibrations of the performed music, allowing for a passage to another level of consciousness.

    Similarly oriented, Claudio Caldini, who arrived in India in the early 1970s after the dictatorship in Argentina assumed power, made films that reveal a deep connection with Indian classical music. This is most explicitly witnessed in Vadi Samvadi (1976/1981), the title referring to the notes of a raga. During the opening of the six-minute film, Caldini is seen sitting at a desk, setting off a miniature steam engine. This leads into stroboscopic, flickering montage sequences accompanied by a soundtrack in which a sitar and a tabla player, and Caldini himself on the tanpura, perform a raga. Objects such as leaves, flowers and books from the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, where Caldini has spent much time, are shot at differing focal lengths, consciously coupled with the raga soundtrack. A captivating sensorial effect is achieved, in which the static objects appear on screen as if they are moving. He seems to be seeking personal and ideological reparation through his work, to mitigate his disenchantment. Caldini certainly would not be the first to seek this, but perhaps what differentiates Vadi Samvadi is the attempt to utilise a set of formal dictates, through the rhythms of Indian classical music, to convey a subjective questing.

    Mouraud and Caldini’s interest in the performance of Indian classical music is clearly phenomenological, and their quest is to explore an alternate consciousness. Hetain Patel, along with other artists in the exhibition, like Vidya Sagar and Sabah Husain, turn to the music, literally its rhythms and reverberations, to guide them to a kind of mark making that is decidedly personal. In Kanku Raga (2007), Patel presents his bare torso to the camera and, through a series of improvised movements, makes a mark on his body with red kanku pigment at each beat of a tabla. Patel is not so much following the music, but dissecting it and grafting it onto his own body. He is performing a ritual of his own making prompted by the music. Whilst in Kyoto, Japan in 1986, Sabah Husain started a series of works on paper that were steered by Indian classical music. She has stated that ‘rhythmic improvisations and subtle microtonal nuances of the melodies and ragas have a meditative effect. Listening to music, for me, is an immersive experience and musical perception goes beyond sound, articulating complex patterns and relationships’. Her drawings are made on large sheets of paper made from Kozo, Mitsumata and Gampi fibres which themselves form a random composition. Onto these she makes calligraphic marks, the Sumi ink dissolving and instantly staining the paper.

    Husain seeks to find her body’s internal rhythms within the structure of Indian classical music, as does Vidya Sagar. A reclusive artist, Sagar was especially drawn to Dhrupad, one of the oldest forms of composition in Indian classical music, found in both the Hindustani and Carnatic traditions. Here the solo singer follows the beat of mridang or pakhavaj rather than the more common tabla. The modal and monophonic nature of Dhrupad, which is sombre and slow, inform Sagar’s intimate drawings that consist of smudges of charcoal and elongated smears made from the flat nib of a pencil edge. Sagar’s marks might appear chaotic, but in fact are made with rigour and care. When viewed as a group the drawings pulsate and throb, and a litany of spectral forms quiver across the paper surfaces, an interplay of the abstract and metaphysical that forms a remarkable choreography. Of Dhrupad music Mani Kaul, who has made a film on the subject, has suggested that the performer does not play or sing their svabhav [disposition], it is their svabhav that makes them sing and play. It is this quality, a certain relinquishment, that is palpable in Sagar and Husain’s gestural mark-making, which complements and contrasts the controlled abstractions of Mohamedi. Closer to the precision of Mohamedi are Prabhavathi Meppayil’s monochromatic white gesso panels. In these she either embeds copper wires or makes fine marks with a set of tools, called thinamm, which are used by local goldsmiths in India. Labour intensive, the incisions made in these works are minute horizontal or vertical marks. While seemingly ordered, and following a prescribed pattern, they in fact lay bare the trace of the human hand and reveal the slightest of slips and modulations. The move from one mark to the next is directed by the moment, as the incision is made, a rhythm established by the sound of the fine tool being hammered into the wood. Composing works that involve embedding copper or gold wires is similarly unpredictable, their visibility and gradual disappearance is occasioned by the work done by hand: the application of gesso, sanding and polishing. The pattern that emerges conveys the perceptual plane that Meppayil slips into while immersed in the process of making the marks.

  • Tribute To The Aesthete Who Ruled India
  • Sabah Husain’s latest work celebrates the legacy of the majestic Empress Nur Jahan. Dr. Marcella Sirhandi takes us through the display.
    Nur Jahan, wife of Emperor Jahangir, played a unique role in medieval Indian history. Her architectural and cultural contributions were accompanied by her keen sensibility as de facto ruler of the Mughal Empire. While we have no reliable portrait of this empress and much of her legacy was undone by her stepson, Emperor Shah Jahan, Nur Jahan’s incontrovertible fame – in addition to the tombs, mosques and gardens that she patronised and likely designed – preserve her enduring renown.

    Sabah Husain has brought to light, literally and figuratively, a dazzling memorial to commemorate Nur Jahan and her accomplishments. Sixteen translucent glass panels with floral and geometric motifs, created for and exhibited at the first Karachi Biennale in October 2017, employ themes derived from tomb architecture, Paradise and public gardens with their floral enhancement and the map of Agra, a city intimately associated with Nur Jahan. Each of the glass squares measures 20 inches x 20 inches, conforming to the Mughal preference for symmetry. Thirteen of the panels hold a golden hue, two are a soft rose and one is rust coloured. All panels are mounted on double sheets of tempered glass, 9 feet x 9 feet. Hanging in the Mughal Art Gallery in the Jahangir Quadrangle at Lahore Qila suspended from pipes tied on steel wires without any use of nails, this installation consciously and judicially follows the rules of conservation. While transparency gives the impression that the panels are suspended in space, the mirrorlike surface reflects the wall and antique brick floor causing the installation to be integrated within the historic space.

    Since the opening of this exhibition on the 8th of March, thousands of visitors from Lahore and all over Pakistan have come to the fort specifically to the Jahangir Quadrangle and there, they linger over Sabah Husain’s tribute to Nur Jahan. The living quarters for Jahangir and Empress Nur Jahan during the months they spent in Lahore in yearly transit between Delhi and Kashmir have been converted to the Mughal Art Gallery. When Jahangir married Mehrunissa in 1611 he gave her the title Nur Jahan meaning light of the world, a symbolic gesture echoed in the reflective quality of the mirrored surface of Husain’s panels. According to scholarly research, Nur Jahan was the light of her husband’s life. She ruled the empire for fifteen years after Jahangir became incapacitated from alcohol and opium. Upon his death in 1627, deposed by stepson Shah Jahan, she retired to Lahore with her widowed daughter where she spent her remaining years. It is not surprising that the citizens of Lahore have a deep attachment for Nur Jahan and her legacy.

    Foremost among the panel compositions are squares and circles. The uppermost panel on the top left features a panoply of birds ensconced in a grid within a circle. It includes a variety of species from hawks and woodpeckers to swallows and parrots, some in flight, some at rest. The grid that keeps them contained is a theme that pervades the sixteen panels and together they form a checkerboard, a type of grid. Birds, like the flora in a chaharbagh (four-part Paradise garden of an Indo-Persian tomb) are an essential element of the iconography. Flowers superimposed on a grid in the next panel make reference to the pleasure gardens patronised by Nur Jahan. Among them are Noor Afshan (light scattering), Noor Manzil (abode of light) and Moti Bagh (garden of pearls) all in Agra. The third panel defines the rooms and divisions within a tomb belonging to Nur Jahan. Nur Jahan is believed to have designed and patronised the tomb of her husband and in a nearby quadrant, her own mausoleum. In the simultaneously two- and three-dimensional circle of the forth panel, light refracted from the carved marble windows provides geometric diapered designs.

    Repetition of floral motifs that decorate the caskets of Mughal rulers including those of Jahangir and Nur Jahan give meaning to the first panel in the second frieze. As one of the two rose-coloured mirrors, this panel demands a close look at details. The floor plan of Nur Jahan’s tomb in the third panel, first frieze, illustrates the chaharbagh garden that surrounds the tomb on each of its four sides. The tomb gardens are divided by canals that represent the two rivers of Paradise. The rivers are referenced in the Quran and in the Old Testament as well. The tomb itself, therefore, is a palace or resting place in Paradise. Nur Jahan designed the chaharbagh at Shahdara. A repeating geometric design from Nur Jahan’s tomb rises above her epitaph in the next mirror. In Persian, the epitaph refers to Sufi metaphors loosely translated as: “At my tomb, no one comes to light my lamp for the moths that are burned with desire for the beloved, nor to address the longing of the sad bulbul.” At the end of this frieze the ink splatters are reminiscent of the fish-scale motifs “pusht mahi” .The marble was carved with undulations like inverted fishscales, which caused the water to mummer like a brook in Mughal gardens.

    The Yumna River winding through the next panel is the location for the chaharbagh tomb of Itimad-udDaula, Nur Jahan’s father. The white marble structure designed by Nur Jahan and decorated with pietra dura may be the inspiration for the nearby Taj Mahal, also noted on the map. A spider web on the rusthued mirror suggests decay. A drop of blood drips top left and the bottom corner has been shaved off. Nur Jahan survived political intrigues, led armies and commanded an empire, but after Jahangir died she found quiet refuge in Lahore. The web is one of intrigue and of decay. A flowering stem extending down to the mirror below breaks the horizontal movement. It partially hides designs made by sunlight shining through the carved marble openings. Last in the frieze is the etched floorplan for the tomb of Itimad-udDaula. Cypress trees, a symbol of death, populate Indo-Persian cemeteries.

    Thorn-laden stalks that crisscross the disk make reference to the darker side of the chaharbagh and also to the travails in Nur Jahan’s life. Encompassed centrally within the grid in the next panel is the word ‘chaharbagh’ itself. And in the sphere of the sixteenth panel is ‘Nur Jahan’ in the Assar script. About the famous Mughal empress, the artist of these sixteen panels wrote, “Hers is a unique narrative because she did not conform to the established ideals of a woman of the time and stood outside the realm of traditional Indian prototype. Her story is one of political dexterity, military competence and, not least, numerous cultural achievements.”

    Sabah Husain’s tribute to Nur Jahan is intelligent and elegant – and executed with artistic virtuosity.

    Dr. Marcella Sirhandi is Professor Emerita at Oklahoma State University

  • Mapping Journeys by Dr. Marcella Sirhandi
  • Sabah Husain’s art practice takes shape within a diverse sphere of media, process and iconography. A lengthy tenure of intense training in painting and printmaking conditioned much of her pictorial predilection. Husain’s Masters of Fine Arts from Kyoto University of Fine Arts and Music including a study of language and paper making contributes an additional perspective for the Bachelor of Fine Arts degree she completed at the National College of Arts in Lahore. Throughout her career, one that spans twenty-five years, and in the present series as well, Japanese aesthetic informs South Asian artistic and cultural modes. Inspired by Urdu and Persian poetry particularly that of Ghalib and Faiz as well as the modernist poetry of Noon Meem Rashid, as in the present exhibition, Husain’s expression reveals itself in both realistic imagery and in abstraction. Prints, handmade paper, paint, mixed media, photography, digital media and installation carry the narrative.

    The MAPPING JOURNEYS encompasses Sabah Husain’s geographicallyexpansive and deeply thought philosophical journey. In the realm of aesthetics the manuscript traverses from Pakistan to Japan and in narrative from classical Urdu and Persian verse to that of Noon Meem Rashid and his epic poem Hasan Koozagar. The paintings in the Baghdad Series reflect Husain’s intimacy with Islamic manuscripts. Gold or silver rectangles break up the pictorial space to form a composition reminiscent of the leaf from calligraphic manuscripts and miniature paintings. Stanzas and words in Urdu and Persian, repeating key lines from Rashid’s poem are penned in strategic locations within the work. But the handmade paper, a laborious skill Husain learned during years in Japan, and the sumi strokes of black ink that sweep across the surface bring another dimension to her painting. These are truly multi-media works of art that incorporate printmaking, calligraphy, handmade paper, painting and sumi ink.

    The complex content in Hasan Koozagar that shifts from the potter Hasan’s ancient past to recent times, underscores the presentation of Husain’s material. The poem is a monologue. It celebrates and elevates the role of individual experience and creativity against the ideological imperative. It narrates Hasan’s journey from the banks of the river Tigris in Bagdad and his transformation. The paper boat series delineates the journeys .Some paintings are lyrical recalling Husain’s training in classical Indo-Persian music and dance. Others seem to breathe the essence of Japanese Zen. These are earthy and deceivingly spontaneous with brush strokes that are expressive and liberating. There is no doubt that Sabah Husain’s recent multi-media paintings are elegant and unique. Her inclusion of three-dimensional objects and installation “Folios from the Baghdad Manuscripts“ connect her oeuvre to the present, reflecting on the destruction of a thousand years old civilization, in Syria and Bagdad.

    Dr. Marcella Sirhandi
    Professor Emerita
    Oklahoma State University

  • Periodicals & Texts
  • 2015- Amra Ali "Poetics of Memory"Dawn August 2015
  • 2015- Osama Khalid "Poetics of Memory"Art Now,Contemporary Art of Pakistan 2015
  • 2015- Marcella Sirhandi "Mystic river"Herald.March 27th 2015
  • 2015- Reza Rumi " Journey to change" The Friday Times.January 30th 2015
  • 2012- Asim Akthar "Journey and arrival" The Friday Times,June 29th 2012
  • 2012- Saman Shamsie "Poetry Meets Art" Newsline. 12 June 2012
  • 2012- Salwat Ali "Digital Transitions",Dawn May 27th,2012
  • 2007- Yousaf Ilona – Alhamra literary review. “Interview with an artist: Saba Husain” Issue 2 – Spring
  • 2003- Ali Salwat “If Music Be The Food of Love” Dawn Gallery. Oct 25th 2003
  • 2001- National Art Collections Fund website - online database. The online database includes 'Zard Paton Ka Ban'. Collection Bradford Museum. Website - www.art-fund.org.
  • 1995- Arts and the Islamic World, p.102.1994
  • 1995- Mitter Partha – “The Right Note” The Herald, September 1995. Volume 26
  • 1994- Printmaking Today, p.12. A quarterly journal of contemporary international printmaking
  • 1991- Balchin Cassandra – “The Japanese Touch” The Herald, April 1991. Volume 22
  • 1991- The Art Quarterly of the National Art Collections Fund, by Marina Vaizey and Norbert Lynton, p.18.
  • 1987- Shibao Tomoko – “Interview with Sabah Husain” Unesco Magazine, Japan. No.178,1987.6.15
  • Books & Catalogues
  • Jhaveri Shanay, Keefe Alexander,Ansari Saira,Everything We Do Is Music.Exhibition Catalogue. Drawing Room Gallery,London,UK.2017.
  • Ali Salwat – Journeys of the Spirit: Pakistan Art in the New Millennium. 2008
  • Hashmi Salima – Unveiling the Visible, Lives and Works of women artists of Pakistan. 2002
  • Mitter Partha – Indian Art (Oxford History of Art). 2001
  • Wilcox Timothy, editor, “Pakistan Another Vision, Fifty Years of Painting and Sculpture from Pakistan”. Catalogue – Published on the occasion of the exhibition, “Pakistan Another Vision” Brunei Gallery, School of Oriental and African Studies, London England – 12th April 2000
  • Naqvi Akbar- Image and Identity. Fifty Years of Painting and Scculpture in Pakistan. 1998
  • Nima Poovaya-Smith, and Hashmi Salima. An Intelligent Rebellion: Women Artists of Pakistan. Exhibition Catalogue. Bradford, England: City of Bradford Metropolitan Council 1996.
  • Sirhandi Marcella. A Selection of Contemporary Paintings from Pakistan. Exhibition Catalogue. Pasadena, California: Pacific Asia Museum. 1994