A retrospective exhibition

January 22, 2023

Dr Ajaz Anwar gives an account of a paintings’ exhibition by Muhammad Javed, at the PNCA recently

A retrospective exhibition

On January 17, I skipped Chughtai’s anniversary exhibition in Lahore and headed out to Islamabad by bus to attend the opening ceremony of Muhammad Javed’s paintings exhibition as well as book launch at the Pakistan National Council of the Arts (PNCA).

On the way, I met countless thirsty cornucopia and eucalyptus trees that had sprouted along the fence on the motorway. It was a bright, sunny day.

The venues of the exhibition were PNCA’s Grand Hall and Gallery No II on the ground floor. Ms Mariam and her colleagues had curated the exhibition. The gallery staff and the PNCA director general, Ayub Jamali, together with some guests, waited patiently for the chief guest, Fareena Mazhar, the NH&CD secretary, who arrived, attired in alizarin crimson. She had to leave soon after the cutting of the ceremonious red ribbon and having taken a brief tour of the exhibition.

Later, the main event started. The guests had settled in the seats by then.

The book, titled Muhammad Javed: A Versatile Artist, An Elaborated Disquisition, was written by Shabnam Abbasi under the supervision of Dr Shaukat Mahmood, who is also the editor on the book. Dr Mahmood joined the discussion via Skype. The other guest speakers included Dr Arjumand Faisal, Prof Dr Maimoona Khan and this scribe. Abbasi also spoke on the occasion, while the DG PNCA gave the concluding remarks.

One felt that the PNCA’s previous directors general like Kishwar Naheed and Dr Fauzia Saeed (who miraculously survived a serious road accident in Balochistan recently) should also have been invited.

The occasion had a special context: on March 23, Javed will be honoured with the Pride of Performance award. The exhibition was arranged upon the recommendation of President Arif Alvi. Javed is said to have penned a note of thanks to the president.


Javed had a long educational and professional journey. Hailing from the Sheikhupura district, his family was into farming. He always had apprehensions about his ancestral countryside being taken over by the RUDA.

Javed moved to Lahore to join the then freshly rechristened National College of Arts (NCA). (Formerly, it was called the Mayo School of Arts, named after Lord Mayo, who was assassinated by Sher Ali Afridi.) The college had been upgraded as part of the Colombo Plan. Prof Sponenberg was its first principal. He also brought Mr Takita, a ceramist, and others. (That the college had to deviate from its historical mode of imparting art education has been a subject of a heated debate over the decades.)

After graduating from the NCA, Javed took up a string of jobs at various advertising companies, before he got admission in the prestigious MIT. He did his master’s in architecture and town planning from the MIT.

Later, he was posted at NIPA in Karachi where Sadequain was also staying and painting countless canvases. The latter influenced the young Javed with his painting style, though only remotely, mostly because he has his own subject matter and style and places of interest.

After retiring from various bureaucratic posts in Islamabad, Javed returned to Lahore where his longtime spiritual mentor, Nawab sahib, recommended him for a posting at Co-opera, a writers’ and artists’ cooperative founded by Justice MR Kiyani and his colleagues. A prestigious building on the Mall was acquired for it. The organisation is engaged in publishing classics. Occasionally, it holds exhibitions by promising young artists, with no commercial interest. Javed helped organise the place into a welfare setup.

His work on display at the PNCA gallery is, in fact, retrospective. Horse carriages, or tongas, and Omni bus double deckers of Leyland brand, commoners as well as animals enjoying water melons, are part of his cityscapes from his student days. Trees form an important part in his landscapes. He paints mainly in oils, with a painting knife but not very thick pigments. He would sketch in charcoal while on trips to the Middle Eastern countries wherever his son, a chartered accountant by profession, worked.

Javed is also a senior member of the Lahore Conservation Society (LCS) and has facilitated many art exhibitions. His interest in cityscapes and urban forestry is reflected in his work, but he draws inspiration more from the places he has been to very often. For instance, he has painted the Mall, where Co-opera is situated, umpteen times. Similarly, he has captured the West End buildings, Lakshmi Mansions, Dinga Singh Building and Ghulam Rasul Trust buildings with an eye for overall light and shade translated in colour.

As he rides towards his house in Johar Town via the Canal, he comes across the cheel gosht being hurled at the birds of prey. He is compelled to paint the birds swooping for the morsels. The white cranes visiting from colder regions thousands of miles away too join in for the meaty offerings.

Another favourite subject with him has been the traffic jams and the reckless drivers.

Lately, he has taken to calligraphic art. He stylises religious scripts and words, arranging them into motifs, albeit without living beings. These are not just nasta’liq script samples but those rendered in simplified forms which Prof Athar Tahir would call calligraphy-art. He had founded a society by that name at the Gaddafi Stadium.

Calligraphy has been part of our art history since the Indus Valley days, as witnessed in the tiny steatite seals in intaglio. The Muslim art and architecture have been extensively adorned with samples. Javed’s mentor, Shakir Ali, had also used calligraphic motifs in his paintings. Earlier, Anwar Jalal Shemza had experimented with Arabic alphabets creating unintelligible but highly decorative words. Zia’s era witnessed the use of the so-called Islamic paintings which were more commercial than aesthetically appealing.

The PNCA, since it was founded in 1973, was always housed in rented places. During Musharraf’s time, it was provided with a purpose-built gallery designed by Naeem Pasha. The place was supervised by Naeem Tahir. Perhaps, the only problem with the PNCA is that it is located in the red zone which makes it difficult to approach.

The gallery has set up a gift shop where various art publications, greeting cards and prints are available. Of course, coffee is also served.

Javed’s exhibition continues through January 23.

The writer is a painter, a founding member of Lahore Conservation Society and Punjab Artists Association, and a former director of the NCA Art Gallery. He can be reached at ajazart@brain.net.pk

A retrospective exhibition