In an age of ‘viral’ images on social media, it is hard to imagine that for a long time, making identical copies of an image or text was a challenge for humanity. As we progressed, basic methods for copying images evolved through wood-, screen- and block-printing. Let the reader think about the power to share an image with more than one household or dissemination of royal edicts to different parts of an empire. These tools to make more than one copy were also exploited by artists for creative pursuits – Egyptian, Chinese and Japanese woodblock or screen prints come to mind. Hokusai’s early-19th-century woodblock print ‘The Great Wave’ is an image that is recognized across the world.
In the Subcontinent the Department of Photolithography was established at Mayo School of Arts (MSA), Lahore, in 1915 where advertising or propaganda posters were designed and printed during the colonial era. Abdur Rehman Chughtai, one of Pakistan’s most distinguished artists, was the head instructor at the Department in 1916. Chughtai soon left MSA but later in his professional career transferred many of his paintings into etchings. Around the same time, the proponents of the Bengal School started moving towards artistic printmaking rather than seeing it only as a medium of “reproduction.”
After independence, MSA evolved into National College of Arts (NCA) in the late 1950s.
In 1967 Saeed Akhtar, Colin David, Ahmed Khan and other faculty members went to Karachi to attend a two-month-long printmaking workshop conducted by the American artist Michael Ponce de Leon.
The 1967 printmaking workshop had been organized by the US Information Services with support from the Smithsonian Institution and Pratt Centre for Contemporary Printmaking. Some notable participants included Majorie Hussain, Ghulam Rasul, Shahid Sajjad, and Bashir Mirza. We find that Gulgee also attended the workshop for a few days
Ponce de Leon in a pamphlet published after the workshop wrote that he found a group of serious-minded “Pakistani artists who for a period of sixty days devoted their energies and enthusiasm to the task of learning to master the intricate techniques of the art of printmaking.” The workshop had been organized by the US Information Services with support from the Smithsonian Institution and Pratt Centre for Contemporary Printmaking. Some notable participants included Majorie Hussain, Ghulam Rasul, Shahid Sajjad, and Bashir Mirza. We find that Gulgee also attended the workshop for a few days.
The Ponce de Leon workshop also led to the establishment of printmaking as one of the specializations at NCA. According to Camilla H. Chaudhry and Dr. Paula Sengupta, “The Ponce de Leon workshop marked an important turning point in the modern history of printmaking in the country. After the workshop several of the attending artists from Lahore were successful in getting the Punjab Government to gift the NCA with a press and set up printmaking as a concentration within the Fine Arts Department.” (Artisan to Artist: Printmaking’s Evolution in the Sub-Continent)
Zahoor-ul Akhlaq, Anwar Jalal Shemza, Adil Salahudin, Bashir Mirza and Saeed Akhtar used printmaking techniques to complement their artistic expression and body of work. Tools required for printmaking – like the press, plates, or chemicals and acids for the printmaking process – require a devoted space and a relatively expensive setup as compared to a simple artist studio at home. Besides this according to Afshar Malik, printmaking requires an artist to physically move around, like sculpture and ceramic, and it is “usually a medium of disasters” because when something is drawn by an artist they are uncertain as to how it would emerge. And this makes printmaking a “blind medium.”
Of course, all of this adds up to make printmaking an exciting and challenging technique, while it is also a technique temperamentally suited to fewer artists.
Naazish Attaullah, former Principal of NCA, and a graduate of the same college, completed her studies in 1983. She was specifically interested in printmaking. Attaullah and fellow artist and faculty member Anwar Saeed went for a one-year UK-funded scholarship at the Royal College of Arts and the Slade School. The Printmaking Department at NCA was established in 1985 under them during the Principalship of Abbasi Abdi and when Zahoor-ul-Akhlaq was the head of the Fine Arts department.
The current location of the Ardeshir Cowasjee Printmaking Studio of NCA used to be a drafting studio and the space was converted by architect Tanvir Hassan into a hall for the Printmaking faculty with mezzanine floor cabins for students to independently work in. Attaullah and Saeed, joined by Afshar Malik, took forward the department – and printmaking in general in the country. The three have remained the most ardent and committed faculty members of the Cowasjee Studio, helping it even after their retirement.
(to be continued)
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