By Shilpa Raina, New Delhi, April 2 IANS | 5 months ago

In Pakistan, lack of support from public institutions, little awareness about art and the absence of an ardent collector base have resulted in "limited" options for Pakistani artists, who see India as one of the potential markets for their work to flourish in.


In return, Indian galleries have positively reciprocated towards Pakistani artists for their distinctive vocabulary in what already is a stiff-market when it comes to contemporary art in India.

"Art is growing at a slow pace in Pakistan, but Indian and Pakistani aesthetics are so similar that one can relate to each other's work," Pakistani artist Amna Iiyas told IANS during her visit to India for a cultural art exchange initiative.

"Some of the Pakistani artists like Rashid Rana have made it big in India and the world. So, it is one of the best platforms for us to come and showcase our works. India's art market is growing at a good rate and has great potential for us," said the Lahore-based artist, who had garnered great response during her first solo exhibition here in 2010.

According to reports, India's $400 million art market is pegged against the worldwide figure of $65 billion, making it a lucrative destination for investors around the globe.

The Islamic country has slowly, but steadily, gained international visibility in the past two decades, with modern masters like Shakir Ali and Ismail Gulgee and contemporary artists like Rashid Rana, Talha Rathore, Aisha Khalid and Mohammed Imran Qureshi leaving a significant mark at the world's art stage.


A fiber glass painting by Pakistani artist Amna Iiyas.

The 1970s and the 1980s were the era of calligraphy in Pakistan, but gradually, the artists moved into miniatures and 3-D paintings, creating a visual vocabulary of their own that was somehow extremely different from their Indian counterparts.

While the contemporary miniatures became a dominant face of Pakistani art in the West, Indian artists started exploring newer mediums like sound art and installations.

Even though India was lucky to have the works of prominent artists like F.N. Souza, Vasudeo S. Gaitonde and M.F. Husain represent the country at several auctions and exhibitions abroad, the real reckoning came with the hosting of the India Art Fair - one of South Asia's biggest art exhibitions - in 2008. This was followed by international auction house Christie's India debut in 2013 where Gaitonde's work sold for a record Rs.23.7 crore ($3.7 million) - making the West to acknowledge and watch out for the budding Indian art scene.

But this was where Pakistan floundered as it was not able to create an eclectic platform for its artists, who blame the lack of public institutions and awareness for this sluggish growth.

"The reason for this is that art hasn't been a part of our culture as we have always been in denial mode about our cultural roots. Hence lack of awareness, and non-existence of public institutions in our country have hampered the growth," Sameera Raja, founder and curator of one of the prominent galleries, Canvas, told IANS on the phone from Karachi.


A fiber glass painting by Pakistani artist Amna Iiyas.

"There is no concept of art philanthropy in Pakistan, and this was the reason why I started this gallery 15 years back to support young artists who were just out from the best arts college in the country. I firmly believe in supporting local artists first before I think of going global," she said, adding that the first art festival had been organised in February.

In such a scenario it was not surprising that Pakistani artists turned their attention to India and its booming art market.

"Pakistani artists do well in India. It is because the art they produce has a different language, and their approach towards art is completely different from the Indian artists," Roshini Vadehra, director of Vadehra Art Gallery, told IANS.

"This is the reason why amid such stiff competition in the Indian market, the works of Pakistani artists always find takers," she said, adding that the works of Pakistani artists like Faiza Bhatti and Masooma Syed have been exhibited in group shows.

Lahore-based Fizza Saleem, who was in India for the first time for the art cultural exchange programme, said she was looking forward to meeting gallerists and visiting museums to understand Indians' aesthetics and where her art fits in.

"I hope my trip to Delhi is fruitful. It is an opportunity to explore and meet art lovers and gallery owners," Saleem told IANS.

"Competition will always be there, but the main difference lies in how you create something that has a distinctive mark of your imagination," she added.

(Shilpa Raina can be contacted at shilpa.r@ians.in)

(Posted on 02-04-2014)


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