Observations on art

May 22, 2022

Suljuk Tarar puts together his observations on art – mostly, but not exclusively Pakistani

Observations on art


ll That Art is a unique publication. Suljuk Mustansar Tarar has produced a compilation on artists and artwork through a uniquely individualistic lens.

Artist Imran Qureshi says in his foreword that being the son of acclaimed author and television personality Mustansar Hussain Tarar, Suljuk Tarar has the advantage of an unusual exposure and upbringing. Suljuk Tarar has a degree in architecture from the prestigious National College of Arts, Lahore, that is also the alma mater of many of the artists covered in the book. He later joined the Foreign Service and has travelled extensively, serving in many countries as part of Pakistan’s missions.

The narratives are both personalised and scholarly. Tarar has dedicated a chapter to architecture in Pakistan. There is an account of American expressionist artist Robert Rauschenburg at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York.

Art publications in Pakistan have mostly focused on a documentative approach, as has been astutely observed by Rashid Rana, a contemporary artist of international renown, in his prologue to Tarar’s book. The book also carries endorsements by Salima Hashmi and Quddus Mirza and former minister for foreign affairs Makhdoom Shah Mehmood Hussain Qureshi. Tarar’s own introduction is key to the narrative that unfolds in what might otherwise appear to be random pieces of writing.

Imran Qureshi’s note carries an endearing personal undertone. It lends a distinctly personal flavour to the ensuing narrative, setting the tone for the rest of the book, taking the reader through art and its many flavours, in particular those exuded by the Pakistani art world, in Pakistan and among the Diaspora, through Tarar’s eyes.

Tarar, a career diplomat, has rubbed shoulders with some of the great movers and shakers of Pakistani art and art education at the NCA. His peers today make a large cross-section of prominent players in Pakistan’s world of art, design and architecture.

The book is divided into two main chapters. The first describes the work and lives of Diaspora artists, artists who have migrated from Pakistan and have created space for themselves in their new countries of residence. Tarar observes their journeys and comments briefly on their practices. He also includes his ideas on the influence, or lack thereof, of the Bau Haus on contemporary Pakistani aesthetics and art education. The phenomenon of the seedling biennale is covered, along with experience of major international shows that the author has attended as an observer. It reads like a flash course in Pakistani art and its connections with the world at large.

The book, in some ways, resembles a travelogue in that it takes the reader on Tarar’s journey through the art world, sharing opinions and learning histories of artists who have touched his world and/ or his imagination over a part of his life. 

The second half of Part 1 features two genres of art-making that have been given less precedence than their peers - landscape painting and print-making. Both forms of art have made a come-back of late, and Tarar has given long-overdue attention to the artists who have founded, persevered and continue to carry the torch for their genres of choice.

Part II has a more personalised flavour. The author writes at length about select master artists whom he has had the opportunity of observing since his childhood. He narrates their work- practices and shares precious anecdotes from their peers. Following the narratives of the master artists is a detailed account of major artists from the neo-miniature tradition. The next set of writings concentrates on the work of a few artists who have created a niche for themselves internationally through various media, techniques and commentaries. Part II also features brief writings on the history of Pakistani architecture and major contributors to it.

A special mention is due here to the piece on the eminent educationist and activist Prof Dr Eqbal Ahmad, whose vision appears to have been marginalised in society since his demise. Tarar narrates his own interaction with Dr Ahmad in the design of the Khaldunia University campus.

In the last set of articles, Tarar shares his experiences and opinions on art-world personalities and phenomena from personal experience. His writing on a major exhibition of Michelangelo Buonarotti at the MoMA, New York, is both a review and a personal narrative. The piece on Robert Rauschenberg reflects on an artist and a genre that deeply influenced contemporary art in Pakistan.

Suljuk Tarar has put together interesting observations on art, mostly but not exclusively Pakistani. The book is truly a personal rendition, a rare feature that should make it more intriguing for many readers. A series of articles and reviews written over many years have been put together in this publication. In some ways it resembles a travelogue, as it takes the reader on Tarar’s journey through the art world, sharing opinions and learning histories of artists who have touched his world and/ or his imagination over a part of his life. Delightful, insightful and refreshing, All That Art is an interesting read for both artists and people with an interest in Pakistan and its art.

All That Art

Author: Suljuk

Mustansar Tarar

Publisher: Sang-e-Meel Publications, 2021

Pages: 304

Price: Rs 2,250 

The reviewer is an associate professor at the Department of Fine Arts at the National College of Arts, Lahore.

Observations on art