Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Rashid Arshed

Rashid Arshed is Los Angeles based artist. He is also a prolific writer with a subtle sense of humor and has two books to his credit consisting of short, witty and playful
writings. He can be reached at website:



Our Heritage

By Rashid Arshed

When I am in Pakistan, occasionally I visit a Historical site, a Museum or a place of cultural interest. The buildings of Mughal era, the glory that once was Pakistan, are very much in ruin. Constant neglect of decades is reflected everywhere. The Museums are nothing but Kabaard Khanas, yet some power brings me back to these places.

During my last visit to Lahore, I visited Masjid Wazir Khan. Thanks to the rickshaw driver who skillfully zigzagged through the old city traffic  packed with pedestrians, goats, vendors,  busses, vans, trucks, tongas  and carts driven by bulls, buffalos, donkeys and humans. All went well until a dozen of camel appeared at the intersection of Circular Road. The Traffic Havaldaar did his best, but these animals, like rest of us, showed no respect for traffic laws.

Shalamar Garden Sign


Masjid Wazir Khan is still very impressive. One wonders how it looked when it was built about 4 centuries ago. But the condition of all other Mughal buildings is pathetic.  Shalimar Bagh is worst of the all. When photographing the pools, I asked an attendant if the fountain could be opened. He firmly replied that fountains are opened during certain hours, yet, he said after a pause, he would do me a special favor IF . . . .  He circled around me while I took the accompanying photographs; a rusted sign with ridiculously misspelled text, truly depicting the tragic picture of our national apathy, and a tuition center banner stretched across the tower. I wondered if the Director of this monument ever paid attention while driving pass this banner on his way to the Garden!

Ten year before this trip I visited Badshahi Mosque and the Lahore Fort. The Hazoori Bagh that was once beautifully maintained and the exquisite marble Bara Dari in the middle of it glittered like a jewel, was occupied by the druggies who urinated and deposited all the waste around it. A group of tourists walked by, scornfully smiling at the scene. The Military Coup of 1999 was over a week old and the neglect had been carried over from the democratic dictatorship of a ruling clan.

In the Lahore Museum, priceless masterpieces of calligraphy of the Sikh period are exposed to fluorescent light that emit killer ultra violet rays. Someone please remove these lights and save what is left of these manuscripts.  This type of lighting is more suitable for a shaadi  shamiana.

The National Museum in Karachi is anything but a museum. The memorabilia of the founding fathers and articles of History of Pakistan, exposed to toxic gases of Karachi air are rapidly deteriorating.

The national Museum is an insult to the nation. One could make a better use of this valuable parcel of land like building apartment complexes or a multi story commercial building, the business we are best at. Hello Land Mafia!

A Day in the Met   

By Rashid Arshed

If you have only one day in New York City to see a Museum, which museum will you chose? My preference is generally a museum of contemporary art rather than a museum with classical collection.  In a contemporary museum you always see the latest trends, not the same old Rembrandt or Ruben, which, by the way, I admire a lot. This time I chose to visit Metropolitan Museum (Met) that, in addition to art from the ages, has a huge collection of modern art. Thanks to my retirement from active teaching, I no longer have to memorize art. Now I look at a work of art simply to enjoy it.

Someone wrote that history of art came to an end with POP Art. False or true, we have not seen a significant art movement since. What we saw after Pop Art is Individualism. The name of sculptor Anish Kapoor stands out in this crop of the individualists. Anish Kapoor has worked in diverse medium, from clay to stone to steel and what you have. Here, at Met, I saw one of his amazing works done in glass. It is a multi dimensional work, literally and figuratively. It adds a new dimension every time it is seen from a different angle. Concave in form it is an assemblage of hundreds of hexagonal mirrors to give a honey comb form. No single photograph will do justice to depict its real magnitude. It ought to be experienced personally to fully appreciate it. In the accompanying photograph the readers will see this author reflected in the mirrors on the left, with his camera, while on the right a reflection of a female visitor can be seen.

Liza Lou USA Rope Anish Elavastui Ghana Untitled

Another work that impressed me most was by El Anatsui the Ghana born sculptor. Anatsui incorporate wood, beads, cloth and other indigenous material. His work is base on Ghanian tradition and culture.

Yet another work that caught my eye was “Continuous Mile” by American artist Liza Lou. A beaded rope coiled into a freestanding sculpture. Liza works painstakingly using beads in her work. She came to prominence with her epic work kitchen that took her six years to finish.


In Memory of Ali Imam

The Central Institute of Arts & Crafts was established in the mid-sixties. Ali Imam, who had just returned from England, took over as its first Principal. The school was in the formative stage and faced formidable challenges, academic and financial. It was in these circumstances that I joined the faculty and met Ali Imam for the first time. He was in his mid forties, ambitious, energetic and determined to build the Institute as a modern place of learning. I saw him wearing two hats, that of an academic and a fund-raiser. Through his dedication and relentless efforts he laid down the foundation of a progressive center of learning.

Ali Imam created an environment of openness where students enjoyed freedom of expression. He strongly believed in the new generation of artists with strong individual ideas and personalities. He was friendly with the students and the faculty, sharing with them knowledge and at times, light conversation. It was this atmosphere of openness that made him very popular and well respected among faculty and students alike.

The Institute had no substantial and regular funding except a meager annual grant from the Arts Council of Pakistan, the sponsoring body of the Institute. In spite of Ali Imam's efforts and a prestigious Board of Directors that included the names of Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Justice Feroze Nana and some advertising executives, the financial situation of the institute remained perilous. The public and the government had yet to realize the importance of art and art education in society.

In 1970, Ali Imam left his job to open Indus Gallery which, in spite of initial adversities, became the most successful and influential art center of Karachi. It became a rendezvous for the artists where they flocked to discuss matters relating to art and artists. Indus Gallery will perhaps remain the greatest legacy of Ali Imam. There are many successful art galleries in Karachi now and their owners deserve credit for their success, but it is fair to say that the pioneering efforts of Ali Imam have made their job much easier. For his contributions to all areas of art, the art community of Pakistan will always remain indebted to him.

Living Memories of Dead Art

World Trade Center was completed in 1973 but a lot of finishing work was still in progress when I landed in New York 1n 1975. I was very much impressed by its architecture and structural design and by its grand scale. I had the opportunity to go up to its rooftop before it was opened to tourists for a fee, and very long lines began to form to purchase a ticket. There was complete freedom of movement at that time without any security concerns. Since then, and until its destruction, I made numerous visits to this monument either to photograph it or to accompany a visiting friend. WTC was also last train station when I commuted from New Jersey to New York between 1976 to 1998.

World Trade Center is owned by Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. PANY&NJ operates and manages JFK, La Guardia and Newark Airports and New York and New Jersey seaports and tunnels and bridges. The revenue generated by these sources is huge and the PANY&NJ has lavish surplus budget to afford a vast collection of major art works by renowned USA and international artists. 

With the twin towers of World Trade Center New York coming down on 9/11, some most important works in the collection of Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANY&NJ), were also destroyed. The list includes Alexander Calder, Joan Miro, Frits Koenig Masayuki Nag are and others. Some of the major works destroyed on 9/11 are ‘Sphere’ by German sculpture Fritz Koenig, a granite sculpture by Japanese sculptor Masayuki Nag are, ‘Bent Propeller’ a 25 feet high steel sculpture by Alexandra Calder and ‘Sky Gate’ by Nevelson. Other works included a painting by Roy Lichtenstein and a monumental Tapestry by Joan Miro.

Interestingly, when Miro was approached to make a tapestry for the World Trade Center he turned downed the offer because he had no experience in this craft. Several years later he was approached to do a tapestry for a Catholic Hospital. Out of consideration for the nuns of the hospital, Miro acquired the skills from a village tapestry maker. He then accepted the WTC commission but decided not to do any more tapestry work because it required lot of labor. WTC tapestry measured 21 feet 33 feet and about 1 foot thick at some areas. I had Photographed Miro’s tapestry along with all other outdoor sculpture at the WTC during my several visits to this monument but I lost most of them when my laptop died on me.

“The dead elephant is worth more than the living one” thus goes a vernacular expression. It is definitely true when it comes to Fritz Koenig Sculpture, Sphere. In its twisted form, placed in nearby Liberty Park attracts more visitors every day than it did when it was magnificently placed in the center of water fountain at of WTC Plaza.

An idea is under consider to restore all work destroyed at WTC. If materialized this would requires millions of Dollars. With the new WTC complex rising above New York skyline, one hopes to see a magnificent site and more environmental art that will adore it. 

World Trade Center at Sunrise, Photo: Rashid Arshed ‘Sphere’ by Fritz Koenig, Credits Mark Lentz/wikipedea ‘Sphere’ After 9/11 Photo: Rashid Arshed
Tapestry by Joan Miro Baloon by Jeff Koon, near WTC. Photo: Rashid Arshed  

The Making of National College of Arts

A few days ago, I received the following email from Dr Nadeem Omar Tarar Associate Professor and Head of Department, Department of Communication and Cultural Studies, National College of Arts, Lahore. Owing to the significance of the subject, I am taking the liberty of sharing it with public.

“Dear Rashid Arshed sahib
You may recall that we exchanged few emails in 2005 over the subject of Prof Sponenburgh. You may be happy to know that I managed to publish a paper on the early history of NCA, which highlights the role of Prof Sponenburgh in the making of NCA. Here is the reference to the paper: Aesthetic Modernism in the Post-Colony: The Making of a National College of Art, Lahore, Published in the International Journal of Art and Design Education, 27.3. November, 2008.

Under the Oral History Project, we are also interviewing the first generation NCA students, teachers and support staff. I also took the opportunity to have detailed interviews with Mr. Qadir Bakhs Khan (who was here in Lahore for a month) and Mr. Atta Rehman (Academics dept).

I will highly appreciate your feedback on my paper and look forward to sharing your experiences of NCA.”

Professor Sponenburgh, not many of us know today, was founder Principal of the National College of Arts, and by overhauling its academic and administrative structure, was largely responsible for the renaissance of art in Pakistan. Ironically, the College website does not even mention the name of the person who made significant contrition in the development of art in Pakistan. It is satisfying to learn that Professor Tarar has attempted to fill this void by publishing a paper on a very significant subject. I hope that this paper is widely published for the benefit of public.