On Sadequain (1930-1987): The Holy Sinner
I remember when The Holy Sinner exhibition opened at the Mohatta Palace Museum in Karachi. It was one of the first few exhibitions to take place there after the building was renovated and turned into a museum. I would practically live there, going from room to room. I would sit on the floor and sketch, taking in each painting. I was especially fascinated by the corner of lithographs. I did my A level Art research paper on Sadequain and my trips to Mohatta Palace were vital. The most interesting aspect about the exhibition was the fact that its main focus was on Sadequain’s paintings. While he is mostly associated with his calligraphic works, he was also admired for his paintings, pen and ink drawings, etchings and his poetry. Most exciting are his colossal murals that were painted in public spaces because he always took pride in the fact that he was ‘an artist of the people and not the drawing room.’ Few people had seen his paintings separately from his calligraphy and so this retrospective curated by Hameed Haroon and Salima Hashmi was groundbreaking. His production, probably in the thousands, is truly awe-inspiring and without a doubt he is Pakistan’s most prolific artist to date.
The title of the show, borrowed from German Nobel Prize winner Thomas Mann’s novel, is also fascinating to me because it speaks of the conflict inside most of us! But in this case, it seems like an oxymoron because it refers to Sadequain’s calligraphy, celebrating the word of God while the feeling was the he was not conventionally religious. He created masterpieces that are timeless. His artwork was heavy on symbolism that can be seen in the unfinished ceiling at Frere Hall, Karachi. His work mainly portrayed human suffering that was depicted through ‘mystic figuration,’ a term he coined to describe his practice. The calligraphic and non calligraphic forms mostly consist of a dark palette. Also, through the tughra script that he morphed into human forms and his cacti inspired series, one can see that Sadequain’s work is a mixture of abstraction and figuration. I feel that this exhibition is timeless because people are still talking and writing about it. It ran from February 2002 to August 2003, with over 85,000 visitors: ample proof of its popularity!
About a decade later, I finally got the chance to meet Hameed Haroon, the Red Baron and ask him about this phenomenal exhibit that has left such a long-lasting impression. The revolutionary retrospective is archived through an enormous coffee table book. The publication not only contains 400 significant artworks of Sadequain but also has an entire section on his poetry, as well as one with tributes and critiques by his friends and contemporaries.
The Holy Sinner was conceived by Salima Hashmi and Hameed Haroon as a method of exploring the many facets of culture. You could therefore say that the project was a way of representing culture and presenting it to the public as it were. When I asked the Red Baron about it, he explained that this was the first of a series of projects that were envisioned by them to create more awareness about our culture and give us a sense of ownership. These projects also tie in well with his ultimate goal of creating the biggest museum and research centre in South Asia.
His next project is an anthology of Madam Noorjehan’s music. The Red Baron has been collecting rare and important pieces for a project with FM 89, the radio channel. So far he has managed to get a hold of 400-500 songs and is still searching. He would then like to work on the composer Mehdi Hasan. His main objective is to keep archiving for future generations. He collected around 25,000 pieces for the Raj Exhibition which is the show that the Mohatta Palace Museum in Karachi opened with. He has collected altogether 750,000 pieces of music for his FM 89 radio program. Through White Star he has archived 3,000 cinema posters and around one million photographs.
The Red Baron gave us lots of advice that day but one tidbit that really struck a chord was when he said, ‘the only custodians of cultural rights are the people’ and ‘it’s a question of doing justice to your own views, that’s very important.’ And these words of wisdom apply to every aspect of life.
Click to view picture gallery
(July 24, 2017)
(July 07, 2017)