Over the last two decades, Amin Gulgee has been an integral part of the Pakistani art scene. He has to his credit some spellbinding art pieces and groundbreaking exhibitions that have created a space, narrative and audience for visual and performance art in Pakistan.
Amin believes that artistic skill requires long-term commitment, and is not something that can be replicated. “Art is not just about getting that one art show or getting into one famous museum; it is consistency gained over time…by having a point of view, by having a vision.” His stance on the significance of art museums, as well as cataloguing art and making it accessible to the public, has undoubtedly helped shape the local art industry. Passionate about creating public art spaces “for everyone to enjoy”, Amin is determined to set up a ‘Gulgee Museum’ that would speak volumes about the legacy of his legendary father, Ismail Gulgee, and his vast collection of artworks. The museum would be open to all, so that “everybody from a rickshaw wala to the Sahib can come and see the art”, as Amin puts it. “There are some great collections, but unfortunately they are all in private ownership, for the 1%. Art is not for the 1%; it is for everyone to enjoy, no matter how rich or poor. We have great contemporaries of our own, including Sadequain and Bashir Mirza. Why can’t their work be made public to be appreciated by all?”
Amin plans to take this idea further as the Chief Curator for the Karachi Biennale, which was launched in January 2017, and comprises a series of art events, projects and public discussions that are scheduled to take place later this year. It will be the biggest art festival Pakistan has witnessed to date. “Our focal point for the Karachi Biennale will be the NJV Building, which houses a school off M.A. Jinnah Road in Karachi. Back in the 1850s, it was a posh institution for the elite, but has now fallen into disrepair. We are hoping to take that space and use it as our main site.”
Currently, Amin can be found in his workshop, busy creating mesmerizing pieces of art. “It is a very private space for me. Until my pieces are complete, I hate talking about them”, he says. Amin has a unique way of going about the creation process: he dwells on a particular design and makes it with a free spirit, leaving and catching up the work at his own pace. The Amin Gulgee Gallery at his residence in Clifton Block 3, Karachi is a fascinating space where one can get immersed for hours and relish the many facets of his handiwork.
Determined to give art his fullest, Amin has taken up a key role in recording and cataloguing the changing face of art in Pakistan. “We are at a junction where we must write our own history. We need to put forth a voice that is our own, that emanates from us. These will be valuable for art historians 50 or 100 years from now, who at that time may be investigating art movements in Pakistan back in 2017.”
One of Amin’s recent exhibitions has been beautifully documented in the form of a book, titled ‘The ‘70s: Pakistan’s Radioactive Decade’. It brought together 47 artists to engage with the pivotal decade that witnessed the 1971 War and the creation of Bangladesh, Bhutto’s rise to power and eventual demise, and the great flourishing of art, music, literature, film and television. “You get to see a lot in this tumultuous decade. We asked artists aged between 20 and 70 years to interpret the ‘70s, which resulted in a diverse and fascinating show.” The book on the exhibition also carries 44 essays on the culture of this decade, written by 37 eminent writers, coupled with questions and answers with iconic figures including Nadeem Baig, Maheen Khan and Yasmeen Lari, among others. Published by Oxford University Press, this much-awaited book will hit shelves on the 70th birthday of Pakistan in August 2017.
Another recent project, The Voice of a New Generation, is a testament to Amin’s contribution towards the promotion of budding Pakistani talent. He invited artists aged below 30 from all over the country to contribute their artistic abilities to this project. Out of 600 entries, 68 were selected to be acknowledged under various genres of art.
Amin is excited to see new movements, ideologies and points of view emerging in the Pakistani art scene. He calls it a time of celebration for us, as Pakistani art and culture is flourishing rapidly. “We may not have oil, but we have creativity – and that is something we should cherish. We should not wait for the West to come and acknowledge us. We should not let Indians tell us what to do; we should be able to do it ourselves. It’s about time we stopped for a moment to think about our strengths and celebrate them.”
Amin’s vision is far-reaching and truly exemplary. There are no boundaries that ensnare his artistic outbursts, no set standards that he follows, no limits that engulf his potential. His only driving force is honesty to his work. When asked whether he has a dream project, he responds, “My goal is to create what I believe in, no matter how the world takes it. I have not compromised my integrity; I am free and have been working freely for the last 20 years. This is my dream project; I am living it.”
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