Whenever art is talked about, it remains meaningless without the mention of Sadequain: an artist with a multifaceted approach towards art. He was muralist, portrait maker, calligrapher, poet and above all a revolutionary who transformed the artwork in Pakistan and presented something very unique, innovative, artistic and bold.
Syed Sadequain Ahmed Naqvi, who is also often referred to as Sadequain Naqqash Faqir Sadequain (a self-proclaimed faqir) or simply Sadequain was born in 1930 at Amroha of the undivided Indian subcontinent in the family of calligraphers. His artistic roots also lead him into the world of art, painters and calligraphers and became a world renowned painter in his lifetime.
His work first surfaced in 1954 at Quetta when he held his first solo exhibition. He was brought to limelight by the 5th prime minister of Pakistan Hussainn Shaheed Suhrawardy who had some paintings done for his residence and later a mural at Jinnah Hospital, Karachi in 1955.
Treasure of Time
His monumental mural of 100 x 12 feet ‘Treasure of Time’ was a masterpiece which he did for the State Bank of Pakistan building at Karachi.
Part of Treasure of Time depicting tribute to intellectual advancement of the Arab scholars like Al-Beruni, Al-Khawarizmi, Omar Khayyam, Ibne Rushd, Sadequain (in the shape of a skeleton), IbneZakaria, Rumi, Al-Idrisi, Hafiz, and Ibne Khaldun
Murals at Mangla Dam
In his later works specially in the 70s, he switched over to calligraphy – something that was in his blood. His beautiful depiction of Surah Rehman from the Holy Quran is something that introduced a new style of Islamic calligraphy – something that was instantly copied by many and fake calligraphic works appeared in market by lowly artists to earn money.
In an interview Sadequain said:
“People ask why I don't paint flowers, butterflies and landscapes? I tell them that I seek the truth and I am after reality. I am not inspired by someone posing against the backdrop of roses in a vase or pink curtains. What inspires me is a person who has gone hungry for hours and is struggling for survival. The expression that lights his face at the end of the day when he has finally found some scraps, that is what touches me. I am a painter of the expression of reality.”
My family is lucky to have very close and intimate interaction with Sadequain which began in early 1970s when one day my elder brother, Zaffar Hameed Bhatti, then studying in the Government College, found Sadequain strolling outside the Lahore Museum. My brother, who himself is a good artist rushed up to nearby Anarkali paper market, bought a pen and a drawing sheet and asked Sadequain for autograph.
It was the time when Sadequain was painting the ceiling of the Lahore museum entrance hall, depicting Evolution of Mankind, and additional nine large panels of calligraphy for the Islamic Gallery. The ceiling spans approximately 100 x 35 feet (11 m).
When Sadequain knew of my brother’s interest in art, he invited him inside the museum and showed him his masterpieces. From then on my brother, later joined by another brother of mine, was part of Sadequain’s team to assist him in completing his paintings. My brother witnessed simple soul Sadequain being fleeced of his paintings by men and women of the elite class. A major portion of Sadequain's work thus eroded.
Sadequain personally addressed the invitation card for me when he was leaving Lahore after completing his Lahore Museum paintings and a select group of people were invited by him to view his paintings
Sadequain is also known as the Holy Sinner for his paintings of naked man and woman, which portray his vitality, innovation, restless fervor and immense amount of energy. He also painted portraits of angular, lean figures, usually clad in/around cactus not only showed the miseries of the people around him, or perhaps himself too.
During his life, he received numerous awards that included Tamgha-e-Imtiaz by Government of Pakistan (1960), “Laureate de Paris (1961) and Pride of Performance (1962), Cultural Award by Government of Australia (1975) and Sitara-e-Imtiaz (1980).
Ajaz Anwar, himself a prolific painter and artist writes about Sadequain on Facebook:
Sadequain was responsible for the renaissance of Islamic calligraphy in Pakistan. He was one of the greatest calligraphers of our time and helped transform the art of calligraphy into serious expressionist paintings. He claimed that his transformation into a calligrapher was manifested by divine inspiration. He did not follow the tradition and created his own style of script. His alphabets exude motion, mood, and paint vivid pictures of the message of the word. Sadequain claimed that many of his paintings especially after the seventies had been based on calligraphic forms to portray images of cities, buildings, forests, men, and women.
In Pakistan, the art of calligraphy was relegated to a second-class status until Sadequain adapted this medium in the late nineteen sixties. Until then a few painters experimented with the medium but it remained as just that, an experiment. After Sadequain transformed the art of calligraphy into a mainstream art form, most of the known Pakistani artists have followed Sadequain and calligraphic art now dominates the art scene.
Sadeqain died on February 10, 1987 in Karachi at the age of 57. He is buried in Sakhi Hassan graveyard.
For more of his artwork, visit Pakistanpaedia