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Monday February 26, 2024

Mirror reflecting amalgamation of cultures, regions and ideologies

By News Desk
December 11, 2023

The Koel Gallery is hosting an art exhibition featuring works by Shiblee Muneer. Titled ‘Identity Crisis’, the show will run at the gallery until December 16.

“Through my practice I invite the audience to traverse the labyrinth of signs, decode the layers of meaning and confront the complexities of our shared identity,” the catalogue released by the gallery for the exhibition quotes the artist as saying.

This image shows an interior of the gallery with paintings hanging on the wall on December 9, 2023. — Facebook/Koel Gallery
This image shows an interior of the gallery with paintings hanging on the wall on December 9, 2023. — Facebook/Koel Gallery

“My work is a mirror reflecting the amalgamation of cultures, regions and ideologies that define us. Through this visual odyssey I aim to provoke intellectual discourse, challenging preconceptions and fostering a deeper understanding of the intricate dance between identity and society.”

Muneer was born in Jhang in a family of artists, where miniature painting was practised for centuries. The family legend has it that his ancestors followed the first Mughal Emperor Babar from Afghanistan to Persia, then India, as part of his team of painters and calligraphers.

Members of his family remained at the Delhi court until the early 19th century. However, with the decline of Mughal power and art patronage, they moved to Patiala, transferring the traditional Mughal painterly technique to the Sikh-ruled court.

Muneer’s great-great-grandfather Ustad Allah Ditta founded the princely painting Gharana at Patiala, where the so-called Pahari style of miniature painting developed under his guidance.

Ditta’s grandson and Muneer’s grandfather Ustad Haji Mohammad Sharif (1889-1978) was a well-known painter in the Indian subcontinent, and his fame was also international through the UK’s India Society.

Sharif was based at Patiala and travelled to other regions on the request of his employer Maharajah Bhupinder Singh (1891-1938). Several years after the death of the Maharaja, Sharif was requested for a teaching appointment at the Mayo School of Arts, now the National College of Arts.

Thus, the family settled permanently in Lahore after the partition of India. Heading the miniature department at the Mayo School of Arts from 1945 to 1966, Sharif developed the first curriculum for teaching miniature painting at an academic institution, and he trained the first cohort of miniaturists in independent Pakistan.

Sharif is considered the founder of Pakistani miniature painting. The painting tradition is passed from generation to generation in Muneer’s family. Both male and female family members begin learning the philosophy and techniques involved in creating a miniature at home.

Later, they apprentice with other master painters, learning everything from paper production to the mixing of pigments to calligraphy, colouring and shading. Muneer followed the apprenticeship training in calligraphy and painting since an early age, and studied at the Naqsh School of Arts and the Beaconhouse National University.

He teaches at the Institute of Visual Arts & Design at the Lahore College for Women University. He is a practising artist, and is doing his master’s leading to PhD in studio practice at the University of Punjab. He also conducts workshops for children in miniature painting.

Muneer carries his responsibility as the guardian of miniature painting tradition but finds inspiration in post-modernist philosophy and new techniques: computer graphics, digitally-manipulated images, hyper-realistic painting and collage.

He experiments by combining the rich, strict canons of miniature painting with contemporary techniques. This put him on the list of Asia’s 10 Most Inspiring Visual Artists in the Top 10 of Asia magazine in 2014. He was recently awarded the Best Contemporary Painter of Pakistan by the prestigious art publication Nigaah Art Awards 2023.