The Born Gypsy
Does the present ever assume the form of a phantom that encroaches upon the past, becoming a source of curious haunting? Such thoughts immediately flit across one’s mind in regarding a conceptual art by one of Pakistan’s foremost contemporary artists, Mr. Shah in which he examines the history of religions, and portrays past predictions with the present situation in a subtle way. The work aptly embodies Shah’s particular artistic approach that involves navigating the history of religions, human nature and consequences. Shah is constantly searching for human peace and peace of mind itself, in some of his works he takes old masters’ paintings and blend them according to his content namely (copy of Picasso, Dali, Gauguin, and copy of holocaust today) His works which are deeply personal as well as global also include the memories of his childhood and the reflection of his present. Whether through his conceptual art or through his digital illustrations, He takes the viewer from spoken words of political leaders to the unseen elements of life through his paintings which are happening today and beautifully relates them with past and the future, namely (Adam and Eve on the moon, oil on canvas) and ( we are the one, oil on canvas) he predicts in his painting’s about the speedy changes in humans could be disaster for mankind, for example he says ‘X-Raided actors stop their children to be part of that profession, that means what they have done was something wrong.
Further he adds verses that ‘there are three degrees of opposition to injustice, first is to stop it with your hands, (in which politician and religious leaders come) the second to protest through your tongue, if that is not possible then feel it in your heart which is third degree of protest, he says I am trying to work on the third degree which is the weakest one. With a background in Art from National College of Arts Lahore and two year in Architecture Design from Arlington University from US, due to his mother illness he left studies and came back to Pakistan. Since then he has been in touch with Art and Architecture with interest and passion. Shah is not teaching in any institution, but he is fully involved in grooming students that come from different Institutions of Art and Architecture.
His constant support and encouragement to Pakistani Artists, and his inspiriting guidance for re-interpretation and experimentation has led him producing extra ordinary talent. Describing himself as a conceptual artist, he passionately speaks about myths, beliefs, rituals, human nature and manipulation of human minds within this evolving culture, offering a critique and celebration of spiritual beliefs and practices. “My art primarily draws upon my childhood memories, I was brought up in a very strict religious family. Even my relatives were against my painting and it was considered a sin”, he mentions, “You cannot develop your artwork without locating it on the canvas of experience, I go back in time to my childhood, mining those memories of living in peace and these days’ brutal situations. I do feel human kind is in progress in one way, it’s a game of power, he elaborates “I feel all creatures are mind manipulators even nature has equipped some species to change their color for hunting, some animals camouflage themselves by changing their color to deceive the hunters or predators, the difference between animal and human is when animal eats and fills its stomach would not harm any other animal till it is not hungry again, human does not have end of their hunger because only stomach is not human problem, the problem is in the minds, greed, comparisons, jealousies, we are running in a race without looking on our sides, And even if we say that human beings have evolved throughout ages, this particular habit prevails in our genes as well. And we still have a long way to go to be called ‘a human’ in a true sense. When I was a child, my parents always taught me to be honest and avoid lying, but as I grew up I discovered that truth they wanted me to speak was for them, because 90% society was full of liars and deceivers, we are living in a world of human manipulators (political, media, product selling etc) consciously or unconsciously we become part of it, so in my paintings, I’ve tried to unveil certain negative traits prevailing in the society. And are against humanity, the methods of manipulation keep evolving with the developments in the world. Where awareness is improving through globalization, human ways of manipulation are also improving. Shahkar beautifully puts the idea that ‘Humans should grow up, but their emotions should remain the same as of a child’. He smiled and said, this is one impossible possibility to peace.
What was it that attracted Shahkar towards the world of Art? Born in 1968 and grown up in Kohat, one of the smallest city of N.W.F.P which in now called Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan, he was constantly searching for a mode through which he best expresses his thoughts in a reflective fashion. He adds ‘When I was 11 years old I found art, I felt as if I had met a special friend who can talk what I feel, I stopped playing with my friends on the street, I was in my small room with my paints, brushes and 200 watt bulb, I felt Art is my friend for life.” The background of Mr. Shah’s initial struggle is very important to tell here, he says.” First I started sketching portraits on a ‘chart paper’ and the first portrait I made was of my elder brother, my elder brother was my guide and he was a great help. He bought material from his pocket money and he appreciated me the most, and told me to be careful of my father because he is a very religious person and he will stop me from painting, it was a general perception of the community that whoever paints will have to put life in it, but I couldn’t get the logic. I thought I am appreciating creations of the creator, I was certainly afraid of my father, I put a small woven bed under a big woven bed and put a bed sheet on a bigger woven bed so that I could slide the painting and drop the sheet so that the painting could not be seen.
Once I was painting for my favorite teachers farewell present which was after 4 days and the painting was near completion suddenly my father entered the house and in a hurry I put the paints on the painting and as I slid the painting under the small woven bed, the white paint mixed with turpentine dropped on the finished painting, It was difficult to fix the same painting, so I requested my mother to let me work at night after my father’s go to sleep so that I can have more time to complete it, so I worked at night until my school time and then I used to go to school come back and sleep.
In my family no one knew about the field of art, except for my brother, he brought me a calendar having old masters realistic paintings the name of an artist was not mentioned I started copying them I didn’t knew how to make canvases, so my initial copies are painted on hardboard with oil paints. I used to see prints of paintings in frame shops and wanted to know how these artist have paint these landscapes, one of my friends father had a frame shop he told me that they paint them at site, so I wanted to paint at site (imagine a place where there is no concept of art and art is taken as an element of sin) but I was afraid of my father that in small cities people know each other if someone would tell my father about me painting he will not allow me to paint, so I requested my friend’s father to lend me a print so that I can copy it at home, he said it belongs to someone and he has to frame it and get it ready in 15 days, so I promised him that I will return it in a given time, I never had painted a landscape before, so I requested my mother again, after the painting was completed in (1980) I put it outside to dry and I went to return the print, when I came back my mother told me that my father was standing in front of the painting and looking at it, I asked her if he was angry and my mother said that she didn’t go near him she was so afraid, so I went to the mosque thinking that my father will see me praying and will not say anything, while coming back from the mosque my father said “the tree buds were painted nicely” I felt like I was free then he said ‘but don’t paint faces because Allah will tell you to put soul in them’ maybe he heard from his father, I started thinking how can I put soul in them. Today I feel it was a rebellious act against the mythical society, I was 12 years of age and I always asked myself what I would say to Allah if he tells me to put soul in my paintings, I felt he would like me, as long as I am not being a mind manipulator against humanity”.
Art is born from the inner necessity of the artist in an enigmatic, mystical way through which it acquires an autonomous life; it becomes an independent subject, animated by a spiritual breath.