The Legends of Modern Pakistani Art #1: Abdur Rahman Chughtai (1894 – 1975)
Living in a digital global village now, we all know about Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night, Pablo Picasso’s Guernica and Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe. We may even recognise Alexander Calder’s mobiles or Edvard Munch’s Scream but how well do we know our own modern art legends? Libas Now brings you art historian Samina Iqbal’s series on the Legends of Modern Pakistani Art.
Abdur Rahman Chughtai is known as the first prominent, modern Indian Muslim artist. We cannot talk about Pakistan’s art history without giving tribute to this legendary artist. Chughtai strove to find his own individual style. His elongated, delicate, rhythmical figures, and his use of romanticized objects such as lamps, candles, and flowing dresses were all his innovation. This itself is a modernist idea to create individualism in one’s style. Chughtai’s Mughal and Persian literary themes for his paintings can also be interpreted as resistance both to colonialism as well as to Hindu dominance in British India.
We cannot talk about Pakistan’s art history of Pakistan without giving tribute to this legendary artist
At the time of the Indian subcontinent’s partition in 1947, Chughtai was a well-established artist based in Lahore and was over 50 years old. He came from a family of architects, engineers, painters, and decorators. At 21, with a brief training of art under Miran Buksh, an architectural decorator of mosques, and at the Mayo School of Art in Lahore, Chughtai launched his artistic career in colonial India.
Chughtai strove to find his own individual style. This itself is a modernist idea – to create individualism in one’s style
Chughtai was well-versed in Urdu and Persian literature and also wrote his own poetry and short stories. He maintained that his work distinctly is the re-visitation of Mughal-Persian aesthetics. He is most well-known for his work on the literary writings of Omar Khayam and Allama Iqbal.
Jahanara and the Taj captures the moment right after the passing away of Shah Jahan, as Jahanara is collapsed on Shah Jahan’s bed, mourning his death
Chughtai’s painting Jahanara and the Taj distinctly deploys more Persian-Mughal traditions. The painting captures the moment right after the passing away of Shah Jahan, as Jahanara is collapsed on Shah Jahan’s bed, mourning his death. The absence of Taj Mahal and Shah Jahan and the presence of Jahanara in the painting indeed captures the moment of “the present” – perhaps alluding to the idea that the glorious past of the Muslims is over, but the present is going to bring the Muslim glory back and this will be through the descendants of the Mughals.
The facial features of the female protagonist in Chughtai’s painting are exaggerated to create his signature romanticized version of a beautiful lady with dreamy, half-closed eyes
In stylistic features, Chughtai’s figure is the most prominent part of the composition. The female protagonist in his painting is not realistic or idealized but, rather, romanticized. Her facial features are exaggerated to create Chughtai’s signature romanticized version of a beautiful lady with dreamy, half-closed eyes similar to Ajanta cave paintings.
The figure is enveloped in layers of clothes, almost giving the body a feeling of floating which is a typical characteristic of Persian-Mughal miniature painting. The limbs of the figure in this painting are elongated and are indicative of what some may call Art Nouveau stylization. Jahanara and the Taj represents Chughtai’s exquisite draftsmanship and speaks to his earlier training as a naqaash – a draughtsman, drawing arabesque designs on mosque architecture.