Abdur Rahman Chughtai

Abdur Rahman Chughtai (1897-1975) was born during the heady years of turn of the century Lahore, a thriving cultural centre since Mughal times. Local traditions were institutionalised by the British with the foundation of the Mayo school (today's National College of Art), where the artist enrolled in 1911. Often construed as a nationalist painter - indeed, he was Pakistan's first national art icon - his work has been convincingly interpreted as espousing a kind of Islamic cosmopolitanism envisioned by the prominent poet-philosopher Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938) and was intimately tied to the politics of pre-Partition Muslim self-determination. Lahore's cultural and intellectual elite vigorously participated in nationalist and separatist movements and no doubt informed Chughtai's early rejection of the modernism emanating from Europe and the US. Dreaming of a Muslim-Indian art separate from Western influences, the artist internalised the art history of the Sub-continent and Persia instead and, crucially, advocated the quintessential hybridity of Mughal art as the bedrock for the evolution of an indigenous artistic identity. Much has been made of Chughtai's connection with the Calcutta-based Bengal School of Art controlled by the Tagore family, who, similarly, had synthesised Hindu mythology, Mughal painting and Japanese wash and printing techniques. However, by the time he had published his Muraqqa-i-Chughtai in 1928 he was fully committed to the advancement of his political and aesthetic choices, inserting himself in a history of Muslim painting that traverses Timurid, Safavid and Mughal eras. (Akbar Naqvi, Image and Identity: Fifty Years of Painting and Sculpture in Pakistan, Karachi, 1998, p.58.) A sense of vindication has recently entered the academic discourse concerning the importance of Chughtai to the history of modern Pakistani art. This was raised in direct proportion to the escalating international success of graduates from Chughtai's alma mater, the NCA Miniature Painting Program in Lahore. Like Chughtai a century ago, contemporary miniatures draw upon the legacies of Mughal painting, (post)-modernism, and Indian vernacular to create a kind of post-national cosmopolitan Muslim aesthetic. Even the notion that Chughtai regarded his work as advancing an Indo-Muslim art under threat by the British colonial project, resonates with the political allegories created by artists such as Buzkashi, Aisha Khalid, Saira Wasim and Shazia Sikander. Ultimately, and perhaps unintentionally, as Dadi has argued, they have succeeded in bringing to fruition Chughtai's dearest dream: the establishment of an internationally recognised Lahore School of Art. From the original notes on the artist by Christa Paula, Bonham's Auction
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