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May 3, 2021

An attempt to convey the lost art of drafting to a wider audience


May 3, 2021

An art exhibition featuring the works done by Prof Kamil Khan Mumtaz opened at the Koel Gallery less than a week ago. The art show titled ‘Likhai’ will be running at the gallery until May 10.

“The art of ‘Likhai’, or delineation, provides the ground, the organising schema, for practically all of the traditional visual/tangible arts — from Naqqashi (fresco painting) to Thoba (stucco tracery), Aina Kari (mirror work), Qaleen Bafi (carpet weaving), Kashi Kari (glazed-tile work), Munabat Kari (wood carving) and, of course, architecture,” the catalogue accompanying the exhibition quotes the artist as saying.

“In my own journey as an architect, from modernity to tradition, I have been able to explore the possibilities of experiencing structure, form, light and space, using familiar materials, patterns and surface decoration, as the grounds for contemplation, and to become aware of a reality beyond the material, and beyond time and space.

“I have learned to work within the framework of a discipline of symmetries, and rhythms that reflect both the cosmic order and perfect balance underlying the apparent chaos of the universe.

“I have been able to evoke the delights of discovering the hidden paradise with internal patios and fountains. I have learned much, and continue to learn much, from the wisdom and skill of our master craftsmen.

“The last Likhai (drafting) master was Haji Abdul Aziz, who taught us much of what we have learnt of the language and grammar of geometry and design and who formally adopted my son, Taimoor, as his Shagird (student).

“With the passing away of the older generations of hereditary craftsmen, many skills and knowledge have been lost. Some of these we have had to struggle to rediscover through documentation and analysis of surviving monuments, but most of all, learning by doing.

“Through these drawings I have attempted to convey some of that experience of the built forms to a wider audience through a more portable medium, and also to elucidate some of the traditional methods and principles of design based on the proportions and harmonies manifested in these forms.”

Prof Mumtaz, who was born in 1939 in Calcutta, is a practising architect from Lahore. Trained at the Architectural Association in London (1957-63), he worked at Architects Co-Partnership in the city for a year (1963-64) before taking up the position of lecturer in architecture at KNUST (Kwame Nkrumah University of Science & Technology) in Ghana’s Kumasi city (1964-1966).

In 1966, on the invitation of Prof Shakir Ali, the then principal at the National College of Arts (NCA) in Lahore, he returned to Pakistan to head the Department of Architecture at the college (1966-1975).

He re-established the five-year course in architecture at the NCA. After leaving the college in 1975, he was a partner at BKM Associates in the city (1975-1985). Since 1985 he has been running his own architectural practice.

As a practising architect, educator, author and a pioneer in the movement for the conservation of architectural heritage, Prof Mumtaz has been a leading influence in raising the standards of architectural design, both in general as well as in the search for a contemporary and appropriate form of architecture that responds to Pakistan’s unique climate, economy and materials while at the same time staying rooted in the indigenous culture.

He has been a member of several architecture juries and has lectured widely across Europe and Asia. He was also a member of the Steering Committee of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture (1981-84).

He has authored the books ‘Architecture in Pakistan’ (Concept Media, Singapore, 1985) and ‘Modernity and Tradition: Contemporary Architecture in Pakistan’ (Oxford University Press, Pakistan, 1999). He has also contributed chapters and articles to several publications on heritage and other contemporary issues concerning architecture.

As founder president of Anjuman Mimaran (1988), he pioneered research, documentation and raising awareness of architectural heritage within Pakistan. He is also a founder member of the Lahore Conservation Society. He was awarded Tamgha-i-Imtiaz in 1993 and Sitara-e-Imtiaz in 2019 by the Government of Pakistan for his services to architecture.

As an artist, his work has been exhibited in several galleries in Pakistan and in London from 1957 to 1967, and is currently included in the permanent collection of the Pakistan National Council of Arts in Islamabad and the Lahore Art Council’s Permanent Art Gallery.

In 1967 he decided to stop painting as a protest against the capitalist manipulation of art. However, he continued to employ his artistic skills in designing and painting a number of posters for progressive labour, peasant and student organisations as a political activist and thinker in the 1970s.

His artistic skills have continued to be employed throughout his career for architectural renderings in watercolour, pen & ink and pencil on tracing paper. The present exhibition is a showcase of his most recent set of architectural renderings.