When I was a child my favourite bedtime story was not Hansel and Gretel or Little Red Riding Hood, instead it was about a man who had painted over the white washed walls of his house the night before a family member’s wedding – that man was Sadequain Ahmed Naqvi.
As I grew older, he became one of those people everyone had read about and if you hadn’t seen the mural in Frere Hall or Lahore Museum, you were considered uncultured. While attending the book launch ceremony for a two-volume book on his life and artwork, ‘The Saga of Sadequain,’ I realised on Tuesday that everyone shared a special bond with this artist. In the short documentary that was projected on stage, it showed him with a crazed, absorbed madness of intensity drawing charcoal lines on a canvas that came to life in minutes. He took only an occasional break to roll up his sleeves and rub his nose. A cigarette dangled from his left hand as if it was another finger.
The event was organised at the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture in the corridor in front of the gallery. Large blown-up posters of the artist painting and signing autographs and posing with ZA Bokhari dazzled under the orange-yellow lighting. At a small stall nearby the Sadequain Foundation sold copies of the book. The Sadequain Foundation is a non-profit organisation spearheaded by engineer Salman Ahmed, Sadequain’s nephew, who gave up his career to write, research and talk about Sadequain.
The guests started to pile in by 6:45 pm and the event kicked off with a short introduction by the gallery curator, Anbrin Naz. The director of the art school came up on stage and introduced the curator of Gallery 6, Islamabad, the official partner of the Sadequain Foundation in Pakistan.
Gallery 6 curator, Arjumand Faisal gave a rather emotional speech on Sadequain, his mentor. He remembered the artist’s giving spirit and said that when he returned from Paris in the 1970s, he didn’t sell anything, he only gave them away – except the two times he was commissioned to work on the mural for the State Bank of Pakistan and the Mangla Dam. Faisal added that Sadequain was also an ambassador of peace as when he went to India for 14 months he painted three murals and more than a hundred paintings and just gave them away. “Sadequain spent 40 years of his life as a painter,” said Faisal. “He painted more than 15,000 paintings, calligraphy… this shows a creative genius and commitment to art which often made me wonder if he was human.” There were times when Sadequain would start painting on Monday evenings and continue non-stop for the next 16 hours.
According to Faisal, Sadequain had gifted 250 painting to the Pakistan National Council of Arts in Islamabad. Once, when a sheikh had offered him over 20,000 dirhams for a painting, he had refused to sell it but asked him to drop by later and take the painting as a present. He did the same when General Ziaul Haq wanted to buy one of his paintings and take it as a present on an official trip.
After a series of speeches, the audience was rewarded by a 12-minute documentary made by PTV on the artist in 1977. This was part of a television series which ran over a couple of weeks.
(The Express Tribune)