Ghulam Rasul’s final migration

November 28, 2021

Dr Ajaz Anwar reminiscences about the Pride of Performance winning artist who was “an accomplished painter and printmaker”

A painting by Ghulam Rasul. — Image: Supplied
A painting by Ghulam Rasul. — Image: Supplied

“With profound love.” Those were the words he had inscribed on his book, titled Another Migration, when giving it to me. It was biographical — a story of migration after migration in the realm of his pursuit of plastic arts. It was the moss he had gathered and garnered that was to end on December 3, 2009.

Born in Jalandhar, in 1942, to a family engaged in the business of dairy farming (his father Chaudhary Abdullah was the manager of military farms), he was catapulted to Chaklala in 1947. His father paid Rs 100 per head for their airfare. Later, he was to travel to the Cape of Good Hope via Okara, Lyallpur and Abbottabad before finally arriving in Lahore. Here, during his studies at Islamia College, he developed a rapport with Prof Eric Cyprian, founder of Fine Arts Society, that was to last a lifetime.

He joined the Fine Arts Department of the University of the Punjab where a strict disciplinarian, Anna Molka Ahmad, along with her staff that consisted of Khalid Iqbal, Naseem Hafiz Qazi and Colin David, trained him in the language of colours.

After completing his master’s he was offered a teaching job in Lahore. He painted continuously. His subject matter was mostly rural scenes in which water buffaloes posed prominently in the backdrop of lush green fields.

He exhibited his work at the department which was frequented mostly by the students who obviously could not buy his work but surely were influenced by it.

Soon he earned a scholarship to study in the US. Incidentally, he got admission in New York’s State University of Buffalo.

His teachers at Buffalo were so pleased with him that they extended his scholarship to enable him to get another degree, this time in printmaking.

Back home, Mrs Anna Molka Ahmed was furious. She did not want him to extend his study leave. But his teachers at Buffalo wrote back, saying that Pakistan had sent them a good “Rasul.”

Having successfully completed his two degrees, he returned to Pakistan some time in 1973. He was appointed the director of visual arts in the newly established National Council of the Arts under the tutelage of Faiz Ahmad Faiz. His mentor, Prof Eric Cyprian, who had been sacked from Islamia College, Civil Lines, upon Ghulam Rasul’s recommendation, was appointed the editor of the periodical, Saqafat. He facilitated the exhibitions of many painters in Islamabad, even though the National Art Gallery (NAG) was yet to be built. The PNCA till then was something of a ‘refugee’ organisation, moving from one rented building to another.

While holding these exhibitions, he recommended many paintings for acquisition for the National Collection. Hence, the artists in those lean years got some income apart from their travel and boarding allowances.

But, it’s hard to please everybody, especially when some expect preferential treatment. Even friends become foes. His job, thus, was not a bed of roses. The motley crowd of strangers — the already fiercely divided camp of artists in which everyone wanted a high pedestal to nap on — had to be catered al a carte.

His family life and health were affected. Yet he managed to divide his time. He had the ability to handle his office files wisely.

He found a fresh solace in painting. As he painted more, he needed to exhibit more often. He got through an open heart surgery, hypertension and diabetes. He also took care of the children of his late younger brother.


Ghulam Rasul was an accomplished painter and printmaker. He was equally at ease with water colours.

He moved to Islamabad, but did not find it difficult to paint the mountainous terrain. Remaining true to his style, he managed to paint the distant bluish mountains and bright colours of autumn. He was able to capture the feel of the snowcapped cliffs.

The land of Gandhara and the Swat Valley, along with the sculptures in grey schist stone, too aroused his curiosity. The Fasting Buddha looked like GR. The Indus Valley also enthralled him.

He had a liking for light which he tackled without subduing the dark areas which were abundantly lit with reflected light. Here, complimentary colours were resorted to. It was this technique that came in handy when he dealt with his diverse subject matter. Thus, the Saidpur series has all ingredients such as rough masonry, cobbled lanes amongst patches of greenery, some whitewashed walls with the rooftops showing from behind, and the few figures making their presence felt.

Rasul’s secret was a rich palette. He was a colourist par excellence. He used various hues of greys and browns to enhance the effect of his viridians, emeralds, scarlets and vermilions which glittered like jewels when lit from behind.

He would use solid colours and not drag his strokes. He preferred broad strokes like a pianist in the finale. He showed that the autumns could be colourful, with the leaves in chromes of lemons and oranges flying through the dust, raising winds of early winters.

Earlier, in accepting the President’s Pride of Performance award he had actually bestowed honour on the award. His promotion to the office of PNCA director general came too late. Yet it was well deserved and he was able to contribute towards the welfare of the artist community.

In his final migration he did not just pass away, he bequeathed us his rich art which shall outlive many.

(This dispatch is dedicated to Rasul’s class fellow, Ayesha Taslim)

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

Ghulam Rasul’s final migration